Luis Suarez celebrated his new Liverpool contract in fine style with two goals to add to his increasingly astounding season’s statistics and help his side to a 3-1 victory over Cardiff City at Anfield. The bumper new deal signed this week may not ensure that Suarez remains on Merseyside.
Instead his career path is likely to be determined by Champions League qualification, something that looks an increasingly strong possibility with Suarez continuing to perform with such mesmeric quality. Indeed, Brendan Rodgers may soon have to revise his targets, with this latest win taking Liverpool top of the table, ahead of Monday’s meeting between the sides in second and third, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Liverpool were outstanding in the first half and a Cardiff side, for whom Malky Mackay took charge under the gaze of owner Vincent Tan, struggled to cope. Suarez was involved in everything positive, scoring the opener on 25 minutes, before unselfishly laying on the second for Raheem Sterling and then firing in the third in the closing stages of the first half. Not for the first time this season, Liverpool struggled to maintain their dominance after the break. Cardiff pulled a goal back through Jordan Mutch’s header and on another day might have caused a nervy finish for the majority if the exuberant fans inside Anfield.
As it was Liverpool saw out the final minutes in comfort, with Suarez coming close to getting another hat-trick, to record their fourth-straight league win. The team as a whole deserve credit, with a special mention again worthy for Jordan Henderson, but it is Suarez who is the inspiration. With 19 goals now in just 12 Premier League appearances, the Golden Boot looks a formality and various records a distinct possibility.
The concerns for Mackay are of an all-together more grave nature. Under an increasingly farcical ownership, his long, thoughtful gaze at the final whistle suggested he knows that this will be his final match in charge. While they lack the quality to go toe-to-toe with a Liverpool side in this kind of form, it is hard to envisage that Cardiff’s hopes of staying in the top flight will be enhanced by his dismissal. The reaction of the traveling fans to their manager after the match suggested they feel likewise.
Cardiff showed some ambition early on. Craig Noone posed a danger on a couple of occasions, most notably when his effort from the edge of the box had to be tipped over by Simon Mignolet.
But Suarez was heavily involved from the off, threatening twice in the early stages before seeing both shots blocked by desperate Cardiff defenders. As the first half wore on, Liverpool played with increasing pace and intensity to leave Cardiff scrambling and chasing shadows. It was only a matter of time before the hosts got the final connection right.
There was no surprise that Suarez was at the heart of things when they did. His tenacity kept a move going down the left before Joe Allen fed Henderson and the in-form midfielder chipped it back to the edge of the box where Suarez was waiting to volley into the corner with the apparent ease befitting his current record.
Cardiff perhaps should have had a chance to get back on level terms when Martin Skrtel escaped punishment for holding Steven Caulker in the box, but the match was increasingly becoming one-way traffic. Liverpool played their short-passing game at a relentless tempo in the closing stages of the opening half and Cardiff were left sorely unable to cope.
Philippe Coutinho struck a post, Jon Flanagan had an effort cleared off the line, while Sterling and Glen Johnson both might have scored as Liverpool ran riot. The second goal was merely a matter of time and it arrived when Cardiff were brutally exposed from their own free-kick three minutes before the break. Henderson sent Suarez soaring clear with a fine ball with the outside of his right foot and this time the Uruguayan elected to share the glory by squaring the ball for Sterling to slide into the net. The speedy winger appeared to be in a fractional offside position, but once again there were to be no breaks for the increasingly beleaguered Mackay.
Cardiff were dazed. If it had been a boxing fight the referee would have come frantically wading in to call a halt to it. Instead the punishment kept coming. Unable the make the half-time bell, the side from the Welsh capital couldn’t get near Suarez and after playing a clever one-two with Henderson on the edge of the box, he curled precisely into the bottom far corner with David Marshall caught slow to react.
Given recent events, it wouldn’t have been all that much a surprise if Mackay had been shown on his way by Tan at the interval. Instead the Scot’s team came out and did him credit in the second half. Struggling to create from open play, as they have done all season, set-pieces were always going to be their best route to goal and it was a trademark fine delivery from Peter Whittingham that gave his team some hope.
Not for the first or the last time, Liverpool struggled to cope, as Mutch was left completely free at the back post to header down and across Mignolet and into the corner.
The goal took some of the vigor out of Liverpool’s play as Cardiff look more secured and had more of an all-round presence up front with Fraizer Campbell replacing Peter Odemwingie.
Liverpool’s threat still remained in spurts, though, and they should have restored their three-goal margin. Instead Sterling was denied by Marshall when clean through on goal and Suarez struck the outside of the post on the rebound. Suarez came close again near the end as Cardiff realized this wasn’t to be their day and their fans stayed long after the final whistle to vent their frustration at the club’s owner turning what should be a time of optimism into a shambles.