Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League as Jurgen Klopp’s second-half specialists struck again to clinch a 2-0 win at Cardiff.
A rare Georginio Wijnaldum strike in the 57th minute eased Liverpool nerves before substitute James Milner slotted home a penalty nine minutes from time.
The victory – the sixth successive time Liverpool have won a Premier League game by scoring the winner in the second half – saw them reclaim top spot from Manchester City after the champions had beaten Tottenham on Saturday.
Liverpool now hold a two-point advantage, but the lead could change hands again on Wednesday when City play their game in hand against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
It was Liverpool’s ninth consecutive win in all competitions and gave them a new Premier League points tally, beating the 86 that Rafael Benitez’s side managed in the 2008-09 season.
Cardiff had suffered a blow on Saturday when relegation rivals Brighton picked up a point from a goalless draw at Wolves
This result leaves them three points from safety and Brighton do have a game in hand.
But Brighton have daunting fixtures against Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City and the committed nature of this performance will give Cardiff hope they can possibly win two of their final three games – they might have to in order to survive.
Liverpool predictably set up camp in the Cardiff half early on and Bluebirds boss Neil Warnock must have feared the “battering” he had spoken about before the game.
Neil Etheridge was forced to punch clear Naby Keita’s pass as Mohamed Salah sensed an opportunity, but Cardiff were compact and dogged and saw out the first 20 minutes with little concern.
Cardiff also carried a threat on the break as Nathaniel Mendez-Laing provided Trent Alexander-Arnold with one of the most difficult 45-minute periods of his season.
Mendez-Laing had shown Alexander-Arnold one clean pair of heels before he burst to the byline.
His cross found Junior Hoilett at the far post but the winger hesitated and Andy Robertson smothered the ball to safety.
The first big chance arrived after 22 minutes when Sadio Mane slipped in Roberto Firmino, but the Brazilian cleared the crossbar with only Etheridge to beat.
Etheridge distinguished himself when he stuck out a foot to stop Salah and Liverpool were indebted to their own goalkeeper just before half-time.
Liverpool only partially cleared a corner and Victor Camarasa struck his effort into the ground.
Oumar Niasse, on loan from Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton, turned the ball goalwards but Alisson Becker reacted smartly to turn over.
Cardiff had only operated at 20 per cent possession in the first half, but they also created the first chance of the second period.
Mendez-Laing’s deep cross was just too high for Sean Morrison and the Cardiff captain directed his header onto the roof of the net.
But Liverpool pressure began to grow and Mane and Alexander-Arnold were both just off-target before the breakthrough came.
Alexander-Arnold had given his previous corners height and sent them deep, but this time he delivered it to the near post where Wijnaldum met it with the most perfect connection to give Etheridge no chance.
Jordan Henderson should have doubled the lead, but Liverpool escaped when Morrison missed from a few yards out after Alisson had failed to collect a corner.
Liverpool were disrupted further by losing Fabinho, who had replaced Keita, almost instantly following a clash of heads and Milner was sent on to prove what was a decisive role.
The Reds got the breathing space they craved when Morrison had his hands all over Salah and the Egyptian fell to the ground.
Salah seemed as if he wanted to take the kick and become the third Liverpool player to score 20 in consecutive Premier League seasons, emulating Robbie Fowler and Luis Suarez.
But Milner took the ball and coolly dispatched the kick to take Liverpool top again.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League table and ensured that the pressure is back on Manchester City with a convincing 2-0 win over Cardiff City.
Jurgen Klopp’s men took their time to get into the game, but goals by Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner in the second half saw the Reds take home all three points.
We take a look at how the players performed in this crucial win.
Alisson 8: Couple of brilliant saves from the Brazilian, most notably after Oumar Niasse’s shot following Victor Camarasa’s mishit volley.
Andrew Robertson 6: Not a wrong foot in defence, but the left-back has had more productive days in attack.
Virgil van Dijk 8: Yet another solid performance at the back. Locked the metaphorical door and dealt with any danger Cardiff produced.
Joel Matip 7: Provided able support to Van Dijk in warding off any aerial threat. A solid performance by the third choice centre-back.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 7: Mendez-Laing had the right-back bite the dust a couple of times but the youngster won the duels that mattered and also provided an assist from a corner.
Jordan Henderson 7: A couple of misplaced passes should not take away much from a good shift in central midfield. Won a few 50-50s and helped control the midfield.
Georginio Wijnaldum 9: A goal just tops what was a great performance in midfield by Wijnaldum. Controlled the tempo and helped set off counters.
Naby Keita 8: Won balls in midfield and played progressive passes, replaced by Fabinho after playing as a work-horse for 70 minutes.
Mohamed Salah 7: Some dazzling runs from the Egyptian though should have scored in the first half. Won the penalty that produced Liverpool’s insurance goal.
Roberto Firmino 6: Looked a touch off for huge chunks of the game and missed a very easy chance that a striker of his calibre should put away with closed eyes.
Sadio Mane 7: Best player in Liverpool’s front-line, like he has been this entire season. Mane’s pace produced some nervy moments for Cardiff, but the Senegalese failed to make any of those count.
Fabinho N/A: Came on for Keita and had an injury ruin his evening, left the pitch after four minutes.
James Milner 8: Replaced Fabinho and smashed home a penalty to give his team some breathing space.
Joe Gomez N/A: Came on for Alexander-Arnold in the last few minutes of the game.
Mohamed Salah may not quite be hitting the dizzying individual heights of last season, but Jurgen Klopp is turning him into a more well-rounded player and Liverpool are reaping the rewards.
That is the opinion of former Reds star John Barnes, who claims Salah is actually enjoying a better campaign this year than his stellar season of 12 months ago – one in which he scored 32 league goals in 36 games to break the record for most in a 38-game league season.
It was a campaign in which Salah’s stupendous goal-scoring exploits fired Liverpool into the Champions League final – where they eventually lost 3-1 to Real Madrid.
But Barnes insists he’d rather see his old club fighting tooth and nail with “one of the best teams in premier League history” in Manchester City for the English top-flight title instead of finishing a mammoth 25 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s dominant champions like they did a year ago.
Salah has, unfathomably, come in for stinging criticism from outside Anfield this season for falling short of last term’s, admittedly stunning, tally.
This despite the fact he is still joint top scorer in the Premier League this season with 19 goals – alongside City’s scintillating Sergio Aguero – while he has seven assists, only three shy of 2017/18.
His lesser impact is down to a mix of Salah working harder defensively, shouldering a bigger creative burden and working harder defensively as Liverpool have married last season’s style with substance this term.
“He’s had a better season this year,” said Barnes, who spent a decade at Anfield, speaking exclusively to Sport360 in Dubai.
“The team is top of the league whereas last year he was top scorer in a team that finished fourth. It doesn’t matter if he scores 40 goals. Would you rather Salah do that and finish fifth or Salah score 20 goals and the team finish first?
“The whole idea he’s having a worse season is ridiculous, I think he’s having a better season. Obviously, the team plays differently now. He’s helped the team do better while still being one of the main players.”
Salah was always fighting a losing battle to match such mesmeric standards he set 12 months ago – a campaign in which he netted an unbelievable 44 goals in 52 games in all competitions.
He surpassed the feats of former Liverpool hotshot Luis Suarez and ex-Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo who each scored 31 league goals in 2013/14 and 2007/08 respectively.
And yet, the 26-year-old has still been dazzling. Whether by choice or the design of his coach, the focus has fallen on team-mates like Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk, as well as the collective.
But it is a tactic that was necessary if Klopp – without a trophy in three-and-a-half years as Reds’ boss – is to end the club’s 29-year top-flight league title drought.
Barnes, who was part of the last Liverpool side to lift a league championship with Liverpool, in 1989/90, knows Klopp is focused on the bigger picture, while also making Salah a better player overall.
Asked if Klopp’s shift this season to improve both player and team – bringing in Dutch defender Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson to make them difficult to score against in addition to playing breathtaking, attacking football, Barnes said: “Absolutely.
“That’s where Chelsea have fallen down. It’s all about Eden Hazard. He’s been doing fantastically well but no-one else on the team has.
“If Hazard didn’t dribble as much and passed more you’d see more of the other players and the team doing better. I’m not a fan of individuals doing better than the team.
“Last year we were conceding a lot of goals. Now we’re defending more and playing more consistently as a team when we haven’t got the ball.
“Salah’s probably working harder defensively, he’s passing the ball more now, and other players are scoring which means he’ll score less. We had a similar situation with (Robbie) Fowler and (Stan) Collymore where they were scoring a lot of goals.
“If somebody scores goals, somebody else will score less. The fact that Mane, (Roberto) Firmino and midfield players are scoring means Salah will score less. It means the team’s playing better.”
As for the Messiah-like moulding of last season’s magician, Klopp is coaxing the best out of his team too. One that Barnes believes is on the cusp of something special.
Who knows what would have happened had the five-time winners not lost talisman Salah to a first-half injury in controversial circumstances in Kiev last May – but Barnes, like Klopp, is eyeing the bigger picture.
“I think Liverpool could be on cusp of something special, absolutely,” added Barnes, who will take part in the DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series which gets under way with the DHL Open at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club on May 2.
“Would I rather get to the Champions League final last year and finish 25 points off the top of the league, or finish second, one point off the top and not won a trophy? I’d much rather be one point off the top because that shows you the team you are week in, week out.
“There’s no point getting to the Champions League final but finishing fourth or fifth, 20 points off the top. That’s not a good team. That shows you can be lucky to get to the Champions League final whereas to do what you do in the league shows you the team you really are.
“A lot of fans talk about not winning anything (this year) and what if we lose out. It will be a disappointment but think about what we’ve done, having lost one game all year.
“We’re up against one of the best teams in premier League history. We can’t control what Man City have done, we can only control what we’ve done and we’ve been excellent.”
*To enter the DHL Open or any DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series event or to attend any of the evening events, email: [email protected]