They may be at opposite ends of the table, but both Liverpool and Cardiff City have plenty at stake Sunday when they square off in Wales.
Liverpool (26-7-1) again face a must-win situation to reclaim the top spot in the table following Manchester City’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday. This match carries extra significance for the Reds, who can turn around and re-apply pressure on City, who will play their match in hand Wednesday at Old Trafford versus eternal rivals Manchester United.
Jurgen Klopp’s team sailed into the Champions League semifinals for a second straight year, demolishing FC Porto 4-1 in Portugal on Wednesday for a 6-1 aggregate victory. Sadio Mane’s goal on 26 minutes effectively killed off the road tie by giving Liverpool a road goal, but the rout was on after Mohamed Salah added a second in the 65th minute.
Roberto Firmino and centre back Virgil Van Dijk added gloss to the scoreline in the final quarter-hour, and Liverpool advanced to face Barcelona in what will be a semifinal clash full of European pedigree – the teams have combined to win 10 European titles – and the added intrigue of ex-Liverpool striker Philippe Coutinho facing his former club.
“We are in the semi-final, we play against Barcelona, you can imagine I don’t think too much about it. But I’m really happy about the fact that we play them,” Klopp told the club’s official website. “We have enough time for that and we can watch so many teams who tried it already and maybe we find something.
“I’m happy for all the people in the club that it’s like this; second time in the second year in the semi-final. That’s a big statement. How ever you go there, it’s difficult. Everybody tries it and nobody did it in the last two years. I am really proud of the boys, it’s brilliant what they did.”
Liverpool have won eight on the bounce in all competitions for the second time this season and are unbeaten in their last 17 (12-5-0) since their FA Cup loss to Wolverhampton. The Reds have not won nine straight games since Feb. 23 to April 20, 2014, during their last serious title push.
Salah’s resurgence could not have come at a more opportune time for Liverpool as the Egypt international has scored goals in three of his last four matches. He, Firmino, and Mane have accounted for 61 of Liverpool’s 97 goals in all competitions and leads the way with 23 goals – one more than Mane.
At the other end of the table, there is only one spot left to determine for relegation, and Cardiff City (9-4-21) is currently in the drop zone. The Bluebirds are two points behind Southampton with four matches to play, but the Saints do have a game in hand. Neil Warnock’s side, though, came up with a massive result Tuesday in winning 2-0 at Brighton and Hove Albion and dragging the Seagulls back into the scrap.
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Sean Morrison scored on either side of halftime for the Wales side, snapping a three-match losing streak as they recorded their first top-flight road win by more than one goal dating back to 1956.
“The dressing room was elated,” Cardiff boss Neil Warnock told the club’s official website. “Not just the fact that we’d won, but the way that we won: I think we played very well on the night and we were always aware that if we hadn’t won that would be it.
“To come out and put on a performance like that with the pressure that was on us was credit to the lads and they all did their jobs. It was a great and very positive response from the Burnley game.”
The Bluebirds have a daunting task in the run-in as they also play at Manchester United. Cardiff City have lost all 10 of their matches against top-six sides, shipping 31 goals with only seven in reply, and have not beaten Liverpool since 1959 when they spoiled Bill Shankly’s debut with a 4-0 victory.
With their goal difference so much worse than fellow relegation contenders Brighton and Southampton, Cardiff City can throw everything forward if they fall behind since a 1-0 loss carries the same weight as a 5-0 thrashing.
“I don’t want it to be an occasion where we say it’s a lovely day and get battered: I want us to put up a fight and that’s what we’ve been working on. We’ve got to keep those good standards up for the rest of the season,” Warnock added at his Friday news conference.
Liverpool ran out easy 4-1 winners at Anfield in late October as Salah opened the scoring and Mane had a second-half brace around a goal by Cardiff’s Callum Paterson, and Xherdan Shaqiri had Liverpool’s fourth.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Cardiff City 0, LIVERPOOL 3.
(Jurgen Klopp and Alisson photo courtesy Liverpool FC official Twitter account)