This is Anfield. Few seem to derive such strength from the famous sign as Mohamed Salah. It is a venue that is invariably graced with his goals and if a 22nd in the Egyptian’s last 19 home games demonstrated both a consistency and a capacity to prey on the weak on home soil, a fourth in three games showed suggestions of his demise were exaggeration.
A four-game goal drought was the longest of Salah’s Liverpool career, but his presence on the scoresheet was not the only indication he has been spurred back to form. Nor was an attempt to score from the half-way line the only illustration his confidence has been restored. A man who was part of Edin Dzeko’s supply line at Roma reverted to his old role in the final few minutes, earning two assists and ensuring Cardiff City did not secure an undeserved draw.
He provided the final pass when Xherdan Shaqiri scored his first Liverpool goal and Sadio Mane his second of a productive afternoon. After the defeat of Red Star Belgrade, Liverpool have eight goals at Anfield inside four days. More immediately, they have returned to the Premier League summit. “It is unbelievable that five clubs have such a big number of points,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said.
Liverpool have dropped only four, which applies pressure to rivals who play Sunday and Monday, though the beaten manager thinks they are likelier to win other competitions.
“I think Liverpool have more of a chance in the Champions League and the cups,” said Cardiff’s Neil Warnock. “I think Manchester City have more, week in, week out, in the league but Liverpool are the most improved team in the league.”
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They have improved at the back, making it a surprise they were breached. They had not conceded at Anfield in the Premier League since Michail Antonio scored for West Ham United in February. Eight months and 918 minutes of football had passed until Callum Paterson prodded in a goal that owed much to a deflected cross. Cardiff had seen an offside goal chalked off earlier but scoring even one flattered a side who embarked on a damage-limitation exercise and saw so little of the ball that their right-back Bruno Ecuele Manga reached the second half before passing to a teammate. Gini Wijnaldum completed more than twice as many passes as the whole Cardiff side before the break. “We had 85 per cent [possession]; that is a crazy number,” added Klopp. By full-time, it was down to a mere 80.
Liverpool made a far greater share tell at either end of the game. They have scored too few early goals this season but led after nine minutes against a side that came to contain. Cardiff’s defiance was summed up by blocks to keep out Wijnaldum and Mane’s shots but Salah still scored the rebound.
Virgil van Dijk hit the post and Adam Lallana had a header cleared off the line by Sean Morrison but while the Englishman was given a rare start and Shaqiri granted a rest, the Swiss was summoned after an hour to add invention and incision. “The quality of their substitutes,” lamented Warnock.
The new signing’s fine goal, taking Salah’s pass, skipping past the two centre-backs and placing a shot in the corner, continued his purple patch. “Bringing on that quality is a massive difference,” Klopp said.
Mane displayed his quality, rifling in his first goal and then taking his second with a deft chip after Salah allowed him to spring the offside trap. “A very good performance,” added Klopp. “He has a broken thumb and plays with a brace. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it but he plays.”