With last weekend’s win against Chelsea getting the final big league game of the season out of the way, Liverpool’s run-in from hereon in is relatively friendly.
Huddersfield, Newcastle, and Wolves await, but next up are Cardiff.
Neil Warnock’s side probably shouldn’t be underestimated. The team are in the grip of a survival battle and have just come off an important 2-0 win away at Brighton, the team above them in the table (although thanks to that victory, the gap’s only two points).
Win, and Cardiff could hop into 17th.
But do they have enough to take points off Liverpool, even at their home in Wales?
Unpredictably, for a team in the relegation zone, Cardiff’s recent form hasn’t been that good. They’ve lost six of their last eight, although their other two matches were 2-0 victories against West Ham and Brighton.
Those aren’t exactly bad sides to beat, showing that Warnock’s side have the capability to upset the odds a little. However, when they don’t win, they don’t tend to score. In that stretch of six defeats in their last eight, they scored just twice while conceding 16.
If Cardiff have any strength of note, it’s in set-pieces. Warnock’s team are, if nothing else, a collection of large individuals.
Reminder that Liverpool are in a second consecutive Europan Cup semi final and are top of the League having lost one game all season
All the best pic.twitter.com/PIjNxNetqs
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) April 18, 2019
The Bluebirds average 1.45 shot assists from set-plays per game, the fifth-highest rate in the league. The Reds aren’t exactly far behind them though, getting an average of 1.23 per game themselves.
Outside of set-pieces, Cardiff only really offer the old-school values you’d expect from a team managed by Neil Warnock. Hard work, decent defensive structure, physicality. But there’s only so much that those can make up for a lack of ability.
It’s not as if those values have helped them in defence, which tends to be the bastion of old-school English managers. Cardiff concede the third-most shots per game in the Premier League, on 14.67.
This has, almost exactly, translated into goals — their 63 goals conceded (nearly an average of two per game) is the third-worst figure in the league.
Even for a team as typically old-school as Cardiff, they don’t manage to do things you’d associate with a more old-fashioned style of football. They average 3.79 completed crosses per game, which is only the 14th-highest rate in the Premier League this season.
Oumar Niasse, still contracted to Everton, has a sort of history with Liverpool, and has become one of Cardiff’s main strikers since joining in January.
That doesn’t mean that he’s been very effective. In ten starts and one substitute appearance in the league, he still doesn’t have a goal or assist for the Bluebirds.
In that case, it probably won’t be a particularly difficult match-up for Liverpool’s defenders, although the Senegalese international’s pace could still be a pain. Pace might be where the pain ends though — Niasse only averages 1.77 shots per game.
While he’s being urged by Everton fans to put a dent in Liverpool’s title challenge, Virgil van Dijk and co should have more than enough to keep him quiet.
At this stage of the season, the form book has a habit of going out of the window. April is the month where Great Escapes are made. Cardiff earning safety wouldn’t exactly be a ‘great’ escape, but that extra motivation in teams can take them to a higher level than they’ve reached through the season up to that point.
However, the Reds are in their own race. Cardiff’s aggregate against top six sides this season has been the wrong side of 31-7. Anything can happen in football, but a lot of the time, it’s the predictable event that takes place.
*odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell