As one of the most in-form teams in the Premier League, Liverpool are many people’ favorites to give Manchester City a memorable run for their title crown. Despite being one of the best sides in the division, though, it’s fair to say that Liverpool aren’t firing on all cylinders: far from it, in fact. They have managed just 16 goals in 9 league games so far – 10 off the pace City have set so far.
However, it’s at the back they are making such huge improvements. Defensively, they are conceding far less, and have shown a massive increase in their general form and defensive structure. The £75m investment in Virgil van Dijk now is beginning to look like it could have been money well spent. While Jurgen Klopp’ Reds aren’t quite at their effervescent attacking best, their new defensive qualities more than make up for that.
Meanwhile, their opposition this Saturday, Cardiff City, have scored a mere 8 goals in 9 games. Averaging less than 40% possession on their 9 games so far, too, it’s likely they will find similar difficulties getting the ball as they make their way to Anfield.
Can Liverpool up their goal tally and keep the pace with City? Or will Cardiff prove a tougher nut to crack than some assume?
The Reds should be relatively healthy coming into this one, though there are doubts over the long-term fitness of Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson. As two key components to the clubs pressing game, that is sure to get some people concerned about their inability to keep up the high intensity nature of their game.
The midfield plays such a crucial role in that pressing side of things for the Reds, so it’s important that they have the midfield numbers to allow it to continue. With the injuries mounting up – not least the long-term loss of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – and it’s easy to see why there are some immediate reservations over this Liverpool sides’ durability for the crunch parts of the season.
For this one, though, we expect them to come out strong. A UEFA Champions League tie against FK Crvena Zvezda will offer an easier tie than the games against Napoli or Paris Saint-Germain, but it will still be a test of their credentials.
Expect Liverpool to come out and keep the ball, using shorter passing to try and move Cardiff out of position. They are a pretty structured side are Cardiff, so Liverpool should be able to control the ball without too much pressure from the opposition.
The main challenge will come when they lose the ball. Cardiff are pretty good on the break, and their propensity to attack with crosses will be very interesting. Despite the improvement in van Dijk and Joe Gomez at the back, Liverpool are pretty poor in the air: this could see Cardiff, who play for this kind of attacking style, have a few more chances than you might expect.
However, Liverpool are good from set plays – and Cardiff are quite weak to them surprisingly. While Liverpool cannot let Cardiff get too many balls into the box, they should feel good about getting the ball into the Cardiff box and causing a few issues that way. Expect some shots from distance, too, as Cardiff leave the space often.
The Bluebirds are not in great form, though they did win their last game out against a dreadful Fulham side. Fulham look set to go down despite spending big: this will be an altogether different kind of beast for Cardiff to overcome.
They are up against a Liverpool side who are pretty weak at the back in terms of aerial duels, though. While they are not conceding much, Cardiff will know that they can create chances that should make Liverpool think twice about bombing forward. However, we don’t expect to see Cardiff getting too much of the ball.
While they like to be aggressive and direct, with most of their shots and attacks coming from long-range shots and crosses, Cardiff are by no means hammer throwers. They have a lot of quality in the wide areas, and should feel good about getting behind the normally advanced Liverpool full-backs.
With the Bluebirds 8/1 for a draw, we could see them pushing for the single point instead of risking trying to get all three.
Don’t expect to see them pressing too high at Anfield. While it might open the chance for some of the more aggressive shot takers in the Liverpool side to pepper their goal with chances from afar, it’s better than letting Liverpool swarm them and get in behind.
We expect to see Cardiff be the team who dominates in the air, with Liverpool most likely having to try and draw out their opponent on the break. However, with Cardiff finally breaking a five-game losing run, it will be interesting to see how they handle this challenge. Will they feel buoyed by the fact they won and try to come out?
Many teams have come to Anfield in the last years and enjoyed a beating for being too defensive. The teams who get results often are the ones who come to attack. That could be a big problem for the Reds.
Liverpool vs Cardiff Matchday Verdict
We can see this being a cracking match, with plenty of ebb and flow to it. Liverpool, though, are beginning to play like a team who feel the pressure of being the next best thing to City. It’s how they handle games like this – acid tests against teams who are just beginning to find their feet again – that will play a key role in their ability to keep up with City.
Ahead of a grueling game against Arsenal in the week to come, too, it’s likely that we’ll see the Reds need to come out and go for all 3 points here. If they can keep the pressure off their defenders by keeping the ball in the Cardiff half, they should be able to grind Cardiff down. However, Liverpool have not looked like blowing anyone away in a while: if they want to put the fear into City, now would be a good time to remind everyone of their attacking intent.
We’re backing Liverpool to be drawing at half time, but to come through and win the game at 3/1.