Cardiff City Stadium, Wales
March 22, 2014; 15:00 GMT
Is it really wrong to underestimate a team with it’s feet firmly stuck in the relegation quicksand at the bottom of the table? Especially when you yourself are sitting pretty at the second best spot in the table? Liverpool FC enter this game having just embarrassed a team we’re told won the Premiership last season, though David Moyes has ensured that it really looks nothing like the Man United of the previous campaign. Cardiff City FC will probably hope that Liverpool show up at the doorstep a little over-confident; the Welsh team might just have a fraction of a chance against the Merseyside team if they take their foot off the gas for this one.
Cardiff City FC manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is quickly running out of time and ideas as he tries to save his club from the drop back to the Championship. In the eight games to go, 19th placed Cardiff have to face Liverpool, Southampton (A), Newcastle (A) and Chelsea (H). Not that any of the other relegation scrappers have a cake walk ahead of them, but the man formerly referred to as the “baby faced assassin” must find a way to eke out points from the games ahead.
Liverpool have .
Cardiff City FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
The good news is that Cardiff City have a practically empty injury list, with all of their regular starters being available. The bad news is that there is a big, BIG question mark about whether these players are good enough to cling onto the edge of the relegation precipice, and drag their side out on the power of sheer will. Because that is exactly what relegation battles come down to, especially ones which are as close as this season.
The problem Ole Gunnar faces is really one of simple mathematics: Cardiff have conceded more than twice as many goals as they have scored. They have scored a meagre 23 goals, with only 17th placed Crystal Palace having scored fewer (19). They are also second last in their ability to stop conceding goals, with 52 goals having kissed the inside of their nets (20th placed Fulham have conceded a shocking 65, though).
Tactics: It’s hard to ascertain whether Cardiff centre-halves Steven Caulker and Ben Turner are religious, but they better pray to whatever God or deity they believe in that they have the game of their lives against Liverpool. Because that is the only way they can stop Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and company from racking up a basketball-esque scoreline against them. But on a brighter note, Liverpool are hardly invincible. Complacency and fatigue have plagued them on an infrequent basis this season, and Cardiff will need to capitalise on any weakness shown. The midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson worked their socks off against Manchester United last weekend (especially the latter two), and there is a chance they may not be as mobile against Cardiff. If Brendan Rodgers plays the same 11 as United, it would mean that Philippe Coutinho would be on the bench, and therefore Henderson is the one midfielder charged with maximum responsibilities of creation and attack.
This is where the role of Cardiff’s own midfield trio comes in. This is hardly a shabby lot: Gary Medel is capable of providing a solid cover in front of his back four, Kim Bo-Kyung is good at playing short passes to retain possession and bring the ball forward, and Jordon Mutch is good at charging forth into attack. These three need to beat Liverpool at their own game, and close down their opponents quickly to ensure that the Suarez-Sturridge-Sterling forward line does not have the kind of supply they need to work their magic. If they can do this effectively, they have a good chance of nicking a goal from a set piece, Mutch as they did (pun intended) in the match that ended 3-1 at Anfield in December.
Cardiff City FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-1-4-1): Marshall (GK); Fabio, Caulker, Turner, John; Medel; Noone, Mutch, Kim, Campbell; Jones
Liverpool FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
Rodgers will be pleased to have a shorter injury list facing him these days, with midfield linchpin Lucas Leiva now restored to the side. Not that the Brazilian is at all assured of a starting spot. Far from it, as Brendan Rodgers has always had a meritocracy based selection criteria (with some rare exceptions), and all three of Gerrard, Henderson and Allen had an world class outing to Old Trafford last week. But he is a good option to have all the same: should Rodgers feel the need to have increased control on midfield. And by this we refer not only to a situation where Liverpool are ahead and want to shore up the defence, but also if the attacking structure is not working. Remember, the fightback from 3-0 down in the 2005 Champions League final was only possible after Rafa Benitez threw on Didi Hamann, a holding midfielder.
Tactics: Against Manchester United (and against Southampton before that), Brendan Rodgers used a diamond in midfield. In both cases, the intent was the same: get more bodies in the center of midfield, where the opposition’s strongest players lie. The tactic worked in theses games, more so at United than against Southampton, but there is no real reason for Rodgers to take this approach against Cardiff. Firstly, against a relegation scrapper like Cardiff, it makes sense for him to focus on his own attack rather than on nullifying the opposition. Secondly, this would leave Jon Flanagan isolated on the left flank, with both Fabio and Craig Noone to handle. Noone is good crosser of the ball, and enjoys dribbling down the flank. He is one of Cardiff’s better players, and leaving him unoccupied may not be the best of moves.
Therefore it makes sense for Rodgers to uses his more frequently deployed 4-3-3 here. Luis Suarez should lead the line, though the front three of Liverpool are very fluid and constantly swap positions. If the forward line has even a half decent outing, they should be able to dispatch Cardiff with ease.
Liverpool FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan; Gerrard, Henderson, Allen; Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge
- In the Premier League games this season, Liverpool have scored more goals before the 25th minute(24) than Cardiff City have in total (23).
- After Robbie Fowler (who managed it twice), Luis Suarez is the only other player to score 25 Premier League goals for Liverpool in a single season.
- Liverpool have scored at least 3 goals in their last 5 matches in the Premier League.
Statistics Source: Four-Four-Two, Whoscored
Player to Watch Out For
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
From child prodigy to overrated dud to the best thing since sliced bread. Jordan Henderson really has seen it all already at the ripe age of 23. As of now, he looks destined for greatness, with his game constantly evolving and improving. It is difficult to imagine this Liverpool side playing the slick, fast paced football every week without Hendo’s rotor-like legs powering the midfield. But therein also lies the problem: how long can he keep this up? Against United, Jordan was omnipresent: making runs, intercepting passes and harassing opponents. Liverpool FC will be hoping that he can keep it up for 9 more games, as he could be the difference between Liverpool lifting the title and simply finishing 4th.
Cardiff City 0-3 Liverpool
As we began, so shall we conclude. Is it really wrong to underestimate a team just one place above the very bottom of the Premier League table, especially when they are facing a team adjacent to the top spot, which is yet to be beaten in this calender year? If it is, then feel free to persecute this prediction, as it feels irrational to predict anything other than a Liverpool FC victory, and one more awkward conversation between Ole Gunnar and the wonderful Mr. Tan.