Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Thursday March 20 2014
Barclays Premier League
Cardiff City Stadium
Title challengers Liverpool [it still feels strange writing that - Editor] are on the road again this weekend for a potential banana skin of a fixture against relegation-threatened Cardiff City.
The Reds have spent the week basking in the afterglow of a dynamic 3-0 victory against old foes Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
That result followed another impressive away day against Southampton and leaves Brendan Rodgers' men in second, just four points off Premier League leaders Chelsea and with a game in hand.
Cardiff meanwhile languish down in 19th and have played more games than the three teams directly above them.
Victory against rock-bottom Fulham earlier this month was just a second under new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who succeeded Malky Mackay at the turn of the year.
Rodgers: "Our players are working with and without the ball. It's the balance we've been looking for, and will continue to look for.
"We play an aggressive game; we've scored more goals than anyone and got into more attacking areas than anyone, but it's equally important for us to defend well.
"We've shown that mentality and desire in our approach, which will allow us to win more."
The Bluebirds could be without a trio of defenders for the visit of Liverpool. Key centre-back Ben Turner and left-back Andrew Taylor are still struggling with knocks picked up in previous games while club captain Mark Hudson remains sidelined through hamstring trouble. Solskjaer will have been encouraged by the display against Everton last time out despite conceding an unfortunate late winner for the Toffees. Changes could therefore be kept to a minimum although, as hosts, a more positive outlook might be the order of the day and that could lead to starts for Peter Whittingham and Wilfried Zaha. Veteran forward Craig Bellamy will hope to feature against a side he played for twice. The 34-year-old moved back to his hometown club from the Reds in August 2012.
Marshall, Théophile-Catherine, Torres Ruiz, Caulker, Fabio, Medel, Kim, Whittingham, Noone, Zaha, Campbell
The former Manchester United youngster made a storming start to his career in Wales, scoring seven times in his first 12 appearances after joining from Sunderland last January. The goals helped the Bluebirds lift the Championship title and this season also started promising with two goals in the famous 3-2 victory over Manchester City back in August. A subsequent dip has seen only a further three league strikes recorded but recent games have suggested a return to form is close. On his day, Campbell, who has an England cap to his name, is a tricky customer whose career could have been more spectacular if it hadn't been for injuries.
Changes are highly unlikely after such an impressive performance in the cauldron of Old Trafford. Should he want to alter anything, Rodgers has a virtually full squad to choose from with only left-back Jose Enrique (knee) a notable absentee. Philippe Coutinho is the most likely to be recalled while recently recovered duo Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva could also feature after injury. The main question will be over formation with Rodgers utilising a diamond in midfield during the past couple of games as opposed to his preferred 4-3-3.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Sakho, Gerrard, Allen, Henderson, Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge
Judging by recent performances, the Anfield icon now appears to be fully settled in his deeper midfield role. There were a couple of games earlier in the year, most notably the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, where the experiment didn't look to have much of a long-term future. Wherever he plays, Gerrard remains an inspirational force and a player for the big occasion. If the club's 24 year wait for a league title is to be ended, every game from now until the season is massive and nobody would deserve to lift the trophy more than the 33-year-old. The England skipper is now into double figures for goals this season courtesy of his penalty double against United.
• Liverpool and Cardiff have met just 30 times in their respective histories and surprisingly the Bluebirds hold the upper hand overall with 18 wins to 10 and 2 draws. They have scored a total of 57 goals compared to a tally of 42 by Liverpool.
• The Reds have won the past three meetings however including a 3-1 victory at Anfield earlier this season and the 2012 Capital One Cup final on penalties.
• Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Premier League during 2014. They have won their last five in a row and the overall record this calendar year now stands at P10 W8 D2.
• The Merseysiders have amassed 62 points from their 29 games played which is more than in any previous Premier League season at the same stage.
• Amazingly the Reds have scored more goals before the 25th minute of Premier League games this season (24) than Cardiff City have in total (23).
• 30% of Cardiff City's goals have come from headers, the highest proportion of any team in the top division, while conversely Liverpool have conceded the highest proportion of headed goals (23%).
Neil Swarbrick is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The Lancashire based whistle blower has taken charge of 25 games so far this season, showing 81 yellow cards and one red. Previously the 48-year-old was in charge when Liverpool slipped to their only defeat so far at Anfield (against Southampton). Swarbrick has been a part of the Select Group of Referees who oversee Premier League fixtures since 2011.
Surely we cannot win the league, can we? Realistically I still expect to end up third but even I must admit it is becoming increasingly possible. Indeed, with the rearranged game against Sunderland to be played in midweek, we could even be top this time next week. My main hope though is we don't drop points in this type of game and that the big matches against Chelsea and Manchester City do therefore effectively decide the destination of the trophy. Cardiff are clearly fighting for their survival and will provide a test but after victories at Old Trafford and St Mary's it will be a big surprise if anything other than three points are recorded. With our defensive deficiencies seemingly corrected and all our forward-thinking players in fine form, another comfortable margin of victory will also be widely expected on Saturday. I think Cardiff will end up keeping us more than honest however.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 1-2 LFC win
Liverpool - Premier League vs. Sunderland at Anfield on Wednesday 26th March 2014, kick off 8.00pm GMT.
Cardiff City - Premier League vs. West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on Saturday 29th March 2014, kick off 3.00pm GMT.
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Date:Thursday March 20 2014
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