Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp described the Cardiff City Stadium playing surface as “dangerous” after his team reclaimed top spot in the Premier League.
A rare Georginio Wijnaldum strike in the 57th minute eased Liverpool nerves before substitute James Milner slotted home a penalty nine minutes from time as Klopp’s men defeated relegation-threatened Cardiff 2-0.
The victory means they have a two-point advantage over title rivals Manchester City, who have a game in hand.
The Reds have also set a new club-record points tally in the Premier League, reaching 88 and passing the total of 86 set in 2009.
Klopp, whilst delighted with the victory, was unhappy with the dry playing surface on a warm day in south Wales.
“The ball didn’t roll like normal. Everybody saw it,” he said. “It doesn’t make football easy when the pitch is dry. It makes it dangerous as well because of injuries.
“Dry pitches are dangerous for players injury-wise. I don’t know exactly why the pitch was dry – the ball doesn’t roll that quickly.
“It’s difficult for the fluency of the game. If you ask footballers what they want, they would say a wet pitch, let’s go, let’s pass, let’s play football.
“You can slide better, everything is better. But we were prepared. I am happy with the outcome.”
Reflecting on a ninth successive win in all competitions, Klopp added: “It’s really massive. It was not a game for a little bit playing around.
“It was a game for a 100 per cent fight, a battle of will, who wants it more, and difficult circumstances – circumstances that were all a bit in favour for the team who doesn’t have the ball that often.
“In the end, we will see how many points we have and then we get what we get.
“We will see what comes out of that game on Wednesday (between Manchester United and Manchester City), but we still have games after that. If United get a point and we go to Newcastle next weekend thinking we have it, then we could get knocked there.
“We just have to stay focused on our things. That is what has worked so well so far, and there is no reason we should change that.”
On Liverpool’s opening goal, he said: “We used a set-piece in a fantastic way. They (players) were so smart, they used the experience from the first half from a corner for a corner in the second half.
“It’s not from the training ground; it’s from the dressing room at half-time, when the boys decided to do that. I love that.”
Cardiff’s defeat leaves them three points from safety, but rivals Brighton’s daunting run-in includes fixtures against Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.
Asked about Klopp’s assertion that the pitch was dangerous, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock said: “No it wasn’t. It was watered before the game.
“I see where he (Klopp) is coming from. As far as I’m aware, he (groundsman) watered the pitch before the kick-off.
“They are just a good side, aren’t they? There is not a weakness in their team or the bench. It’s a fabulous Premier League title race this year because both sides are unbelievable.”
On the penalty, which was awarded following Sean Morrison’s challenge on Mohamed Salah, Warnock added: “I thought it was a soft one. He’s got his arms around him and everything.
“I think the end of it was a 9.9 Tom Daley job. I don’t think he could have got much higher off the diving board at the end of it. I am sure you will be saying Warnock’s a moaning so-and-so again.
“We are still fighting. The players really gave their best. When you are coming up against such quality like that it’s great to give them a game and give the fans one or two exciting moments.”
Copy provided by Press Association Sport
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.