Mohamed Salah strikes to help send Liverpool to Premier League summit, end doubt over form
LIVERPOOL -- Three quick points on Liverpool 4-1 Cardiff in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
1. Liverpool go top and look close to their best
Liverpool went to the top of the Premier League on Saturday and did so with a largely dominant display over Cardiff at Anfield.
The Reds were the only top-five side in action and can sit back and hope rivals slip up over the rest of the weekend.
Sadio Mane scored twice and was joined on the scoresheet by Mohamed Salah and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Liverpool are beginning to knit together their defensive solidity with potent displays in the final third. Both were in unison for the majority of Saturday's game.
The signs are promising Jurgen Klopp's men will be in the conversation for the title as the season goes on. There is also much more room for improvement.
It was apparent during the midweek win over Red Star Belgrade that Liverpool began to click in all areas of the pitch for the first time this season. But that did not stop Klopp making some eye-catching changes to his starting XI. Out went the impressive Shaqiri, Andrew Robertson and Joe Gomez. In came Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Alberto Moreno, making his Premier League start since April.
The fluidity was still present at the start, though. Liverpool were on top from the very first minute, and it only took 10 for them to find a breakthrough. First Mane was denied, then Georginio Wijnaldum, before Salah pounced on a loose ball and thrashed home.
The bombardment continued. Three minutes later, Virgil van Dijk hit the post, and Liverpool then had a shout for a penalty turned down for Sean Morrison's apparent man-handling of Salah. Lallana had a header cleared off the line by Morrison on the stroke of half-time.
There was a rare scare for Liverpool early in the second half, when Cardiff had the ball in the net from a free kick, but Morrison was correctly flagged for offside.
Liverpool scored in the 66th minute, which should have put an end to Cardiff's hopes of snatching something. The buildup was scrappy, although Mane's finish was emphatic as he drilled the ball beyond the hapless Neil Etheridge.
But Cardiff struck back. Rather fortuitously, Junior Hoilett's through ball took a deflection off Van Dijk and into the path of Paterson, who prodded home. It looked like it would be a tense end to the match, but Liverpool scored twice in the space of three minutes to sew up the result.
Second-half substitute Shaqiri displayed some neat footwork in the penalty area and coolly slotted home. Cardiff were then picked apart on the counterattack as Mane went through and dinked over the onrushing goalkeeper.
An impressive start and finish to the game saw Liverpool earn the win. They are beginning to get close to their best.
2. Questions over Salah appear misplaced
The demise of Salah has been greatly exaggerated. It's now four goals in Liverpool's last three games, and he appears to have found his mojo again. Goals will do that to a striker.
The confidence was flowing against Cardiff even before he found the back of the net. Salah attempted to score direct from a corner, having had success doing the same when playing for Egypt earlier this month.
His goal will earn him the plaudits, but it was his all-round display he deserves the most credit for. The Egyptian was busy throughout, and his link-up play created opportunities for his teammates. His cross from deep found Van Dijk, who headed on to the post three minutes after the opener.
Crucially, Salah is fit and firing. His interrupted summer and off-the-field issues with the Egyptian Football Association appear to be behind him.
It was always going to be extremely difficult for him to recapture last season's record-breaking form, but Klopp and Liverpool were relaxed as Salah went through a barren spell at the start of the season.
That patience is paying dividends. Salah is back.
3. Cardiff outclassed at Anfield
Neil Warnock's attitude heading into the game was defeatist to say the least. A "virtually impossible" task awaited Cardiff, according to their manager, as they travelled to the place where Liverpool hadn't been beaten since April 2017.
Despite this, Cardiff did have go at times. They can take pride in ending Liverpool's run of not conceding a goal in the league at Anfield, which stretched over 900 minutes.
Like most relegation-threatened sides, this Cardiff team are woefully short of goals. Their four in last weekend's win over Fulham was as many as they had managed in their previous eight league games. On their travels, they have scored just twice -- the lowest tally in the Premier League.
Not even playing at Anfield could inspire £10 million Cardiff forward Bobby Reid, the lifelong Liverpool fan. Reid was in the crowd for Liverpool's dramatic win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, and largely a spectator again on Saturday.
Cardiff will be targeting the next two games to pick up some much-needed points. They are at home against Leicester City, and then Brighton and Hove Albion visit the Cardiff City Stadium. Those tasks won't be impossible.