It may not have been the most enjoyable watch, but literally all that matters in the heat of this title battle is the end result. Jurgen Klopp’s ever-patient, rarely-ruffled Reds continued their delightful habit of finding a way to win ahead of a potentially decisive Manchester derby on Wednesday.
It was a set-piece that provided the opener against the resolute hosts shortly before the hour mark, with Georginio Wijnaldum lashing a bouncing ball beyond Neil Etheridge. Substitute James Milner then made sure of the points from the spot after Sean Morrison’s clumsy foul on Mohamed Salah.
Here’s how each of the Reds rated in South Wales.
Alisson Becker – 7/10
A well-earned clean sheet for the man in pole position to land the golden glove. Made a smart save to deny Oumar Niasse’s acrobatic effort towards the end of the first half, and replays suggest he managed to get a crucial touch on the corner which led to Sean Morrison’s glaring miss, diverting the ball away from the centre-half’s head and safely onto his back. Aside from those moments, there was little to do.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 6/10
Struggled in the first half, with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s pace and power seemingly proving too much for him. Much steadier after the break, and it was delivery into space that Wijnaldum converted. Impressively, that’s the tenth time he’s set up a team-mate this season.
Joel Matip – 8/10
Yet another fine performance from a man who really hasn’t had his fair share of credit since stepping into the team to deputise for an injured Joe Gomez. There may have been concerns that he would struggle to deal with Cardiff’s physicality but he passed the test with ease. He was strong defensively throughout, and in the first half his marauding runs and incisive passes looked the most fruitful avenue to goal. Joe Gomez is back in the fold, but Matip’s spot is deservedly safe for the remainder of the season.
Virgil van Dijk – 7/10
A seven for the man who never dips below it. He will certainly come up against more challenging opponents, but together with Matip he repelled the aerial assaults which were always likely to be Cardiff’s best chance of grabbing a goal. After some nervy moments with his back to goal in recent weeks, he didn’t hesitate to lash the ball into the stand when required, clearly aware that there was no need to take any risks.
Andrew Robertson – 6/10
It was a fairly quiet afternoon for Robertson, but he defended well and ensured, particularly in the second half, that he was an outlet going forward. He’ll be hoping to rattle off a few assists in the remaining games to see off Trent’s challenge.
Georginio Wijnaldum – 8/10
This was a much better display from Wijnaldum, whose level had dipped of late. His role in the team is understated by nature, but it verged on anonymous before Klopp gave the erstwhile ever-present midfielder a much-needed rest. Clearly refreshed, he was notably more tigerish in midfield, impressing in a role he has rarely occupied this season.
His goal – just his second away from home in the Premier League – was superbly taken. World-class strikers would be delighted with a finish that emphatic. Liverpool needed a moment of quality in front of goal after a wasteful first-half.
Jordan Henderson – 7/10
Henderson wasn’t quite as magnificent as he has been in recent games, in part because he wasn’t able to zip the ball round as effectively on a pitch that hadn’t been watered. There’s no doubt, though, that he is better suited to his more advanced role, and once again he showcased encouraging ambition as he combined with Salah down the right. He’ll be frustrated to have carelessly fired over after Mané cut the ball back to him in a great position, but the miss mattered little in the end.
Naby Keita – 7/10
Keita will be an important player for Liverpool in matches like these. Time and again, he will pick the ball up about 30 yards from goal and shuffle forward in search of a one-two with one of the front three which could unlock the regimented defence. Here he had the air of a man who looked capable of making something happen with his movement on and off the ball. He was substituted as Klopp looked to shut the game down, but the manager will nonetheless be very pleased with another positive performance.
Mohamed Salah – 6/10
Six might seem a touch harsh for the Egyptian, particularly since he won the penalty which wrapped the game up by shielding the ball from Morrison and intelligently going to ground under the clumsy challenge, but he spurned a couple of chances a player of his ability should be putting away. Set through on goal by Henderson in the first half, he could only shoot straight at an onrushing Etheridge, and the ‘keeper was equal to another mishit effort late in the game after neat combination play with Firmino. On the whole, Bruno Ecuele Manga marshalled him pretty well. Still, he’ll be confident of a return to the scoresheet against Huddersfield.
Roberto Firmino – 6/10
Firmino, by contrast, had to salvage a six out of ten after a really poor miss in the first half. The goal was gaping, but he sent his shot well wide. A player of his ability ought to have easily made the net bulge. However, he stepped it up thereafter, orchestrating some neat combination play with his partners in crime and working as hard as ever. That sort of application is all you can ask for after a mistake.
Sadio Mané – 7/10
Mané was marginally the best of three, though he too spurned a good chance as he looked to flick Alexander-Arnold’s cross into the net following a darting run to the front post. He looked dangerous throughout, his pace, skill and fantastic strength making him as tough to handle as ever. It was his neat through ball that Firmino really ought to have dispatched.
Fabinho – N/A
Insert Abe Simpson gif here.
James Milner – 7/10
Milner clinically dispatched his penalty, sending Etheridge the wrong way, to secure the victory for his side. Ice-cool just as he was against Fulham last month.