Liverpool 4-1 Cardiff: Who was man of the match?
Liverpool are top of the Premier League after a late spell of ruthless brilliance shattered Cardiff’s hopes of stealing a point at Anfield.
The Reds’ dominance levels in the first half were nigh-on historic as they enjoyed around 85% of the ball but, while there was some neat interplay, Mohamed Salah’s opener proved the only shot on target in the first 45.
It was a scrappy, frustrating start to the 2nd half, but a moment of pure quality Sadio Mané gave the Reds a cushion.
Anxiety took hold when Callum Paterson wiped out what seemed a certain clean sheet, but delightful efforts from Mané and Shaqiri soon put the result beyond doubt.
Paterson’s goal ended a run of home shutouts stretching back to February, and the fault was largely with Dejan Lovren, who started in place of Joe Gomez after he lost track of his man.
Lovren won an impressive nine aerial duels, but aside from that it was a jittery performance which only strengthened Gomez’ claim to a place in Klopp’s strongest team.
Alberto Moreno was also drafted into the side, with Andrew Robertson rested, and his performance was, in fairness, reasonably solid. He was a constant outlet on the flanks, just like Robertson, and went close to an assist when he picked out Adam Lallana with a neat cross on the stroke of half-time, only for the header to be cleared on the line.
The only real mark against the Spaniard’s name was that Junior Hoilett got free down the right flank in the lead-up to the Cardiff goal.
Virgil van Dijk was reliable as ever, though his appetite for goals is yet to be sated. The Dutchman, who last netted on his memorable debut, saw a header bounce onto the post.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was handed his first league start since the draw at Chelsea and looked keen to impress as he bombed forward when the Reds were on top but tracked back diligently when required.
In midfield, Fabinho was rewarded with another start after starring in midweek and this time his display was more understated. Most importantly, he now looks calm and comfortable, having taken time to find his feet.
Georginio Wijnaldum carried out his dual role close to flawlessly. His passing was magnificent (nobody else on the pitch could match his 94.1% accuracy) and he regained the ball for his side on four occasions. Has he ever been this important a player for the Reds?
However, it was a case of ‘same old story’ for Adam Lallana. Over the course of his 60 minutes on the pitch, he produced some nice touches and covered plenty of ground, but the end product was lacking and his decision-making was poor at times. Fans were crying out for Shaqiri, and Klopp too saw the change as a necessity.
Shaqiri actually struggled to make a significant impact at first, but on 84 minutes he came alive, picking up an excellent pass from Salah and coolly stroking home for his first goal for the club. It sealed three points, and in all likelihood a starting spot against Arsenal next weekend. His contribution, in relatively few match minutes, has been outstanding.
Roberto Firmino couldn’t get in on the scoring act, instead of dropping deep and looking to orchestrate play. His only attempt a goal was a long-range effort which sailed over the top, and many of his first touches went awry.
You could argue that he looks ever-so-slightly out-of-sorts.
The same could have been said of Mohamed Salah prior to the international break, but the Egyptian has rediscovered his magic touch and was his side’s man of the match on Saturday.
Sadio Mané bagged a brilliant brace, the first goal explosive and the second was classy, but his contributions beforehand had been scant. Obviously, you’d accept anonymous performances if he still delivers the goods, but Salah shades the MOTM contest this time after inspiring his side’s late rally.
The outside-of-the-boot assist for Shaqiri was superb, and his ball into the path of Mané for the fourth was perfectly-weighted. Two assists, then, to add to his earlier goal, a poacher’s effort which showcased his great instincts.
Liverpool will truly be able to maximise their firepower, a frightening prospect if Salah continues to combine creativity with finishing.
He has scored four goals in three games, over seven days, and all of a sudden he finds himself just two shy of the league’s current top scorer Eden Hazard. He could well humiliate his countless doubters.
Salah catapulted himself into the pantheon of the European elite last season, so scrutiny is inevitable. Virtually every aspect of his game has been questioned. Some saw in his occasional selfishness (common among most prolific forwards) evidence of a rift between himself and Sadio Mané, while others have concocted absurd rumours of a January exit because he is smiling slightly less than usual. Is that really unhappiness, or is it steeliness?
He will continue to face that level of microanalysis, and the only way he can respond is by hitting the back of the net, a practice he has happily resumed after what was indeed a drought by his record-breaking standards. Perhaps all he needed was time to come to terms with his own magnificence.
Yes, this run of fixtures will likely prove to be the most straightforward of the season, but Salah has been able to rediscover his swagger and looks to be back on course for another stunning end-of-season tally.