Liverpool 4 - 1 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 29 October 2018 By Michael Morris

When you see a set of post match stats which says one team had nineteen goal attempts (seven of them on target) and four corners, while the other had two efforts at goal (one on target) and no corners, you are on pretty solid ground in predicting which one of them came out on top.

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule when a match has the same sort of figures (Burnley’s win at Cardiff City Stadium last month being one of them), but, to no surprise whatsoever, City’s visit to Anfield this afternoon only offered further proof that such statistical domination usually foretells how the result went.Throw in a possession balance of 80/20 in Liverpool’s favour as well and a final score of 4-1 for the home team as they moved to the top of the table comes as no shock.

City can take some consolation from becoming the first away team to score a Premier League goal at Liverpool’s ground in eight months when Callum Paterson nudged home to make the score 2-1 in the seventy seventh minute. The, once again, tremendous away support were allowed to dream for a few minutes that they might be able to say “I was there” when City turned around a two goal deficit at Liverpool in the last quarter of an hour, but the reality was that the goal was akin to kicking a wasp’s nest – City were stung by two quality goals in three minutes and so, “plucky” Cardiff went the way they were expected to by the sort of margin of defeat they were expected to lose by.

In fact, it was all much as expected really – City were better in the second half and their goal threatened to lift the game out of it’s predictability for a while, but, for me at least, there was never that feeling that they could put the Liverpool defence under the sort of pressure which would make it wilt again.

Last month at Stamford Bridge, City found themselves 2-1 down inside the last quarter of an hour and there had been a few near things for the home defence which meant that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that the match may end in a draw, but there was little or nothing in today’s encounter to suggest the same thing.

As it was, both matches ended in 4-1 defeats in which a case could be made that the margin of victory was slightly flattering to the big boys, but the main difference between the two for me was that, just as at Spurs, it felt like City were “in” the game for long periods at Chelsea, but  it never felt like that today as far as I was concerned.

It has to be said mind that, just as at Bournemouth on the opening day of the season, City’s central midfield had a bit of a threadbare look to it – “threadbare” is a harsh way to describe it really, because Aron Gunnarsson and Victor Camarasa both played full parts in good team performance against Fulham last week. However the truth is that Gunnar is having to find his match fitness in the first team after injury meant that he played no competitive football until late October and had next to nothing in terms of pre season fitness work and game time.

Neil Warnock has been talking in terms of Gunnar getting something like sixty to seventy minutes in games at this stage of his comeback. He made way today with about twenty minutes of playing time left and the fact that it was Loic Damour who replaced him rather gives away the fact that City were doubly depleted in that area.

Our manager had said in his pre game press conference yesterday that there would definitely be one change from the team which secured that much needed first win of the season last week and it turned out that the man who was missing was Harry Arter. Quite how serious the injury which sidelined him was is a moot point because, with four bookings to his name, it had to be borne in mind that the Republic of Ireland international is one booking away from a suspension – this piece appears to confirm that Arter could have played today if he really had to). If Arter had played at Liverpool and received a caution we would have gone into the home Leicester match next weekend (a much more likely source of three points than Liverpool away) short of both himr and Joe Ralls.

Now, we will, almost certainly, have Arter back against Leicester and if he was to get that fifth booking against them, then at least Ralls would have, hopefully, recovered from the injury to his kneecap he sustained at Spurs and be able to step in against Brighton in a fortnight having completed his three game suspension following his red card at Wembley.

Now, despite that report I linked to, it might be that Arter’s injury was serious enough for him not to have been able to play today even if he had not picked up a single booking this season, but I suspect if it was Leicester we were playing this week and Liverpool next, then Arter would have been out there today.

Either way, if you are a certain type of Premier League club, it makes complete sense to rest important players for matches against “elite” clubs so that they are ready to give of their best in the more important stuff to follow where there is a far more realistic chance of getting the points that are going to keep you in the top flight.

Eight years ago Mick McCarthy and his Wolves team were in hot water after he fielded a virtual reserve team for a game against Manchester United at Old Trafford – maybe McCarthy went too far with all of those changes, but I could certainly see his point.

Forget all of the hype about how the humblest of teams can overcome the big boys in the Premier League. Yes, it does happen occasionally, but the history of the league since is stopped being the far more competitive First Division of the Football League is one of mind numbing boredom when it comes to who wins the title each year and who are realistic contenders to contest for it with them.

Since 1993, there have only been one Premier League Champion who were not in the elite group that the pundits were adamant the title winners would come from and that’s Leicester City in 2016*. Blackburn in 1995 were, possibly, the richest club around at that time thanks to Jack Walker’s involvement and while Manchester City were never in that elite for the first half of the Premier League’s quarter of a century of existence, they are the team everyone else has to better now when it comes to spending power and playing resources.

The received wisdom is that any points picked up by the more modest clubs against the big boys who will be competing for the title and Champions League qualification is a bonus – you will gain the points which ensure your survival when you take them off sides that often end up going down instead of you.

The number and composition of the teams predicted to make up the group which will finish at the top of the table can vary, but, apart from when Leicester won it, it only does so between four and six teams – this promised to be quite an interesting season by Premier League standards because it was generally thought that there would be as many as six sides that were contenders this time around.

The soap opera that is Manchester United under Jose Mourinho had better get a move on sharpish if that sextet is not to become a quintet, because it’s looking increasingly like one of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs will be Champions and one of them will be heartbroken as they see their season long pursuit of a Champions League place foiled at the last.

I’ve mentioned before on here this season that the other fifteen sides have not been having a good time of it against the top contenders this season – nearly three months into the season, the only instance of one of those five clubs being beaten by one of the other fifteen was at Vicarage Road in September when Watford turned a half time deficit against Spurs into a 2-1 win.

That tells you so much about the nature of the division so far and when you also include stats such as the one I read before today’s game about how Liverpool had won all but two (they were both draws) of their home games against the three promoted clubs for each of the last eight seasons I believe City had virtually no chance of extending their unbeaten run to two matches today.

It’s little wonder that you were getting odds like those mentioned in this messageboard thread on a City win today – they really do bring home the enormity of the task we were facing.

Now, it may well be that Bournemouth’s hold on a top six spot is a temporary one as Manchester United, finally, begin to assert themselves, but the line coming through loud and clear here is that the “rest” cannot expect to get a great deal from their encounters with the top six during this season.

With that in mind, it is very interesting from a Cardiff City perspective to see how many games each club in the division have played against the current top six so far – here’s the breakdown;-

Matches against current top six         Matches against other fourteen

Liverpool                                   3                                                                      7

Man City                                    2                                                                      7

Chelsea                                      3                                                                      6

Arsenal                                      2                                                                      7

Spurs                                          1                                                                      8

Bournemouth                          1                                                                       9

Watford                                    3                                                                       7

Everton                                    2                                                                       7

Wolves                                     1                                                                       9

Man U                                     2                                                                       7

Brighton                                 3                                                                       7

Leicester                                2                                                                       8

West Ham                             4                                                                       6

Burnley                                  2                                                                       7

Palace                                    2                                                                       7

Southampton                      2                                                                       8

Cardiff                                  6                                                                       4

Fulham                                4                                                                       6

Newcastle                           4                                                                       6

Huddersfield                     4                                                                       6

Although things are a little uneven at the moment with some teams having played ten games and others nine, the top six will remain the same once this weekend’s fixtures have been completed and so I think it’s fair to say that those figures show that City have had, by some way, the most difficult opening ten fixtures of any club in the division.

Our total of five points with more than a quarter of our season completed would, almost certainly, see us relegated if repeated over the course of the whole season, but our cause, up to now, has not been helped in the slightest by a couple of things – first we have played more of those games against the current top six (five of whom are proving to be almost impossible to beat so far) than anyone else and, second, because we have lost all six of those matches.

Obviously, this means that we will have lost ground against many of the other fourteen clubs once we reach the halfway stage of the campaign when everyone else will have played the current top six as many times as we have now.

However, our next ten matches are all against sides outside of the current top six and our record in the four matches we’ve played so far against such teams offers some grounds for optimism because we’ve only lost one of them (that almost freakish defeat by Burnley).

Yes, those other four games have seen us pitted against the current bottom three and Burnley, who I believe should be very worried that they have to play four of the top five sides in their next ten matches. With that in mind, a record of won one, drawn two and lost one is not brilliant, but if we can continue to win as many as we lose against sides from outside the top six in the period up to when we play Spurs in Cardiff on New Year’s Day, then we would, surely, have opened up a useful gap above the bottom three?

Speaking of the bottom three, the best news of the lot at the moment has to be that, despite our very low points total and very tough start, we are not in it. Although it seems to me that the top five sides have improved on last season in many regards, their almost complete domination when they play against members of the other fifteen suggests that this improvement has not extended downwards and that there is not a great deal between the also rans – we are still regarded as virtual certainties for the drop by the nation’s media, but, for now at least, we can say that there are mitigating circumstances for our low points haul.

While the focus when it comes to the first team is, inevitably, towards the bottom of the division, it’s great to record that our Under 18s are top of their league having won away 2-0 at winless Colchester this lunchtime. Isaak Davies opened the scoring on six minutes and then saw his penalty, awarded after he had been fouled, saved by the home keeper with the game barely ten minutes old. After that, City had to wait until two minutes from time before they made the points safe when Dan Griffiths headed home.

The top three sides are beginning to open up a bit of a gap after they all won today – City are two points ahead of Ipswich with a game in hand and, for now at least, the more serious challenge seems to be coming from Bristol City who are three points behind us having played a game less.

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*This piece was written before news of the helicopter crash at Leicester City’s stadium last night after their match with West Ham broke. It is now being reported by several news sources that the club owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was on the helicopter with the BBC saying that a member of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s family has confirmed this to be the case – as yet, there have been no details given as to casualties, but I suspect that there will be bad news on that score soon – my sympathies go out to everyone connected with Leicester City and I hope the outcome is not as bleak as I fear it will be.