Sunday 22 October 2017

Rodgers cools title talk for sizzling Reds

Liverpool 3 Cardiff City 1

Liverpool players celebrate with Luis Suarez
Liverpool players celebrate with Luis Suarez

Andy Hunter

There was defiance on and off the pitch in what may prove to be Malky Mackay's final act as Cardiff City manager, but there is nothing that can deny Luis Suarez. Liverpool's stand-in captain and standout performer celebrated his new £200,000-a-week contract with his 18th and 19th goals of the season to elevate Brendan Rodgers's team to the top of the Premier League. In Anfield's eyes, he is worth every penny.

Liverpool could remain top for Christmas depending on tomorrow's result between Arsenal and Chelsea. The previous four teams in that position have still been there come May. Their manager played down his team's prospects of repeating that feat this season, but with the brilliant Uruguayan under contract, and the likes of Jordan Henderson developing rapidly, belief is rising. "It is unprecedented for a team to go from seventh one season to first the next, it doesn't happen," said Rodgers. "But we have to keep this momentum going."

The new league leaders produced a contrasting display, excelling in the first half and faltering in the second as Cardiff showed impressive resolve in the wake of owner Vincent Tan's attempt to oust their manager. The whole of Anfield applauded as the Cardiff fans sang "Malky Mackay, we want you to stay", followed by "Vincent Tan, we want you to go".

Mackay had made a pointed entrance, stepping on to the pitch to applaud Cardiff's travelling support before turning around and nodding in the direction of Tan, sat in the front row of the directors' box. It was not reciprocated by the Malaysian.

Mackay's problems were unlikely to ease against a Liverpool side with soaring confidence, improved understanding and the league's outstanding performer leading the line. So it proved as Suarez inspired another Anfield triumph.

Cardiff began strongly and Craig Noone tested Simon Mignolet with a rising drive. But the pace, industry and invention of Liverpool were relentless. The threat had been growing, although the final ball was lacking until Suarez instigated a lightning move on the corner of the Cardiff box. The Uruguayan found Joe Allen, who released Henderson, and the commanding midfielder lofted the ball back towards Suarez. The outcome was inevitable, a fine volley into the bottom corner.

From there Cardiff were under intense pressure. Philippe Coutinho hit a post after spinning away from Noone, Martin Skrtel headed over, Steven Caulker cleared off the line from Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling was denied by David Marshall.

The overdue second arrived when Henderson's creativity and accuracy with the pass again unlocked the Cardiff defence. He sent Suarez racing clear with the outside of his foot, but the goalscorer supreme chose not to shoot, instead squaring for Sterling to convert into an empty net.

By doing so he maintained Liverpool's average of two goals per game in the league under Rodgers -- the best ratio of any Reds manager since John McKenna in 1896.

Liverpool's third said everything about the class and belief coursing through Rodgers's players. Flanagan found Suarez , who played a one-two with Henderson and then, from the midfielder's exquisite back-heel, arched a shot into the far corner from the edge of the area.

To their credit, Cardiff refused to roll over and the introduction of Frazier Campbell and Kim Bo-Kyung, plus aerial vulnerability in the Liverpool defence, changed the complexion of the second half. Jordon Mutch reduced the arrears when left unmarked at a Peter Whittingham free-kick to steer a header beyond Mignolet. Uncertainty spread throughout the Liverpool rearguard, with Mutch sending another good chance over and Caulker being refused a penalty as he wrestled with Skrtel before heading wide.

Suarez was denied his hat-trick by a post and Marshall, his only frustration on another compelling afternoon.

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