December 21 2013, 12:45 GMT
The two sides go into this Premier League fixture with a complete contrast in fortunes. Led (literally, at least at White Hart Lane) by Luis Suarez, Liverpool have just come off what Brendan Rodgers described as the most complete performance from the Reds during his time so far in Merseyside, routing Tottenham Hotspur 5-0. On the other hand, Cardiff City had failed to win a game for 6 weeks following the South Wales Derby win over Swansea, until they defeated West Bromwich Albion 1-0 over the last weekend.
However, manager Malky Mackay’s statement in the press where he hoped to sign three players for Cardiff City in the January transfer window has given rise to an embarrassing public fall-out with owner Vincent Tan. It must be noted that the relationship between Mackay and the owner has been far from hunky dory in recent times. Given that he has now received an ultimatum from above, Saturday’s clash against Liverpool could well be Malky Mackay’s last game in charge of the Bluebirds. Ironically, the victories both Liverpool and Cardiff City picked up last weekend (over Tottenham and West Bromwich Albion respectively) both cost opposing managers their jobs.
Those who watch the Premier League on a regular basis have been treated to the tired cliche of every game being crucial in the League. This does hold true, however, for both sides. Not much is usually read into a clash between 2nd and 15th in the table any time during a Premier League season, but Liverpool go into this game knowing that anything less than 3 points will undo the good work done by their win at Spurs. Victory will put them at the top of the table for two days. Defeat for Cardiff City will leave them closer to the relegation zone, while offering owner Vincent Tan an excuse to usher Malky Mackay out of South Wales.
Team News and Tactics
Sandwiched between away trips to Tottenham (already completed in style) and Manchester City is this home fixture against Cardiff City. Even though the Reds have scored 14 goals in their last three Premier League fixtures, the defeat away to Hull City at the KC Stadium is still fresh in the minds of supporters. Keeping that in mind, Brendan Rodgers will be out to ensure that Liverpool approach this fixture with the same intensity as the previous three.
Brendan Rodgers revealed that Steven Gerrard has been making progress in his recovery from a hamstring injury. Daniel Sturridge is still out, however, as is left back Jose Enrique. Other than that, there are no major injury worries. Iago Aspas has been fit for a couple of weeks now, but has found game time hard to come by because of the current form and fitness of the man who plays in his primary position – Luis Suarez.
Prior to trip to North London, supporters feared how Liverpool’s midfield will cope in the absence of Steven Gerrard. The triumvirate of Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Lucas provided all the answers and some more. Having conquered and dominated Tottenham’s physically imposing midfield, a similar test awaits them in the form of a stubborn Cardiff rearguard shielded by “The Pitbull” Gary Medel. How that battle goes will be central to Liverpool’s hopes for a win on Saturday.
The main threat to the Reds will come from set pieces. In the absence of Steven Gerrard, there isn’t much by way of height among outfield players (only Henderson, Skrtel and Sakho stand above 6 ft tall). Brendan Rodgers and the rest of the backroom staff will need to come up with a plan to ensure that Route One football does not take them down the way it took down both Manchester City and Manchester United earlier in the season.
From an offensive point of view, the sight of Lucas (for all his ability) taking corners is not a very appetizing one. Steven Gerrard’s deliveries have contributed to goals this season, and while Luis Suarez is more than capable at direct free kicks, someone will need to step up to take corners in the absence of the captain. In open play, however, Liverpool are a different kettle of fish.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan; Lucas, Henderson, Allen; Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez
The Bluebirds’ preparation for this match has been dominated by the fallout between manager Malky Mackay and Malaysian owner Vincent Tan. Considering that they have not faced a single team in the Top 8 away from home, it is far from ideal.
Cardiff native Craig Bellamy is the only notable injury concern for Cardiff ahead of the trip to Anfield as he missed the win over West Bromwich last weekend with a knee injury but hopes to fit for a return to Liverpool, where he spent two spells. Other than that, manager Malky Mackay has a fully fit squad to select from.
The Bluebirds have been reliant on defensive solidity this season, while attacking teams on the counter to good effect. Steven Caulker has been impressive at the back for Cardiff, keeping things tight while making his presence felt at set pieces. Chilean midfielder Gary Medel has been a constant in front of the defence – harrying and bullying opposing midfielders and not providing too much space and time on the ball. His performance on Saturday will have a profound impact on the outcome of the game – he will be tasked with ‘nullifying’ the likes of Joe Allen and Philippe Coutinho, as well as tracking the runs from deep from Jordan Henderson that proved to be so deadly at Tottenham Hotspur.
Cardiff City are particularly effective at set pieces and will look to take advantage of Liverpool’s weaknesses in that area this season. Set pieces have been directly responsible for victories over 2012 champions Manchester City and Welsh rivals Swansea City, as well as in sneaking a draw against champions Manchester United.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Marshall; Theophile-Catherine, Turner, Caulker, Taylor; Mutch, Medel; Noone, Odemwingie, Whittingham; Campbell
- Liverpool have scored at least 4 goals in their last 4 home matches in the Barclays Premier League.
- Cardiff City have failed to score in their last 4 away matched in the Premier League.
- Liverpool have only conceded 5 goals at home in the Barclays Premier League this season.
- Luis Suarez has scored 17 goals in the Premier League this season, despite only appearing 11 times. Cardiff City, on the other hand, have scored 12 times in the Premier League so far.
Player to Watch Out For
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Luis Suarez may currently be the man of the moment, but the players around him need to play well too. This season in the Premier League, Philippe Coutinho has not hit the heights of the business end of 2012-13, but has performed reasonably well whenever he has played. That being said, Cardiff City defend well and do not give you much space and time on the ball in the final third. Hence, the likes of Luis Suarez will be dependent on the deft touch and vision of the Brazilian as they look for opportunities to score and seal the three points.
Liverpool 2-0 Cardiff City
As mentioned earlier, Cardiff City have failed to score in their last 4 away games in the Premier League. Even though this season is by far the most unpredictable in a while, failing to score against likes of Crystal Palace will not stand them in good stead as the Bluebirds make their first League trip to Merseyside. Brendan Rodgers will not take too kindly to Luis Suarez and co taking their foot off the gas, and will expect the lads to put the game to bed nice and early on Saturday. Should the plan work, he will hope to grant some game time to those who have not played much of late (Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, etc). Cardiff City are a tough opponent to beat, but Liverpool’s overall quality should be more than necessary to get the three points.
Blast from the Past
Have a look at the highlights from the 2012 League Cup Final between Liverpool and Cardiff City, that the Reds won on penalties.