The Liverpool bandwagon rolls on. “We’re gonna win the league” reverberated from the travelling supporters after a sixth successive Premier League victory maintained Liverpool’s pursuit of a first title since 1990 and offered further evidence of their staggering firepower and ability to score almost at will.
Trailing 2-1 at one stage, Liverpool responded in emphatic fashion through a hat-trick from the irrepressible Luis Suárez, who took his tally for the season to 28 in 25 appearances, two goals from Martin Skrtel and another for Daniel Sturridge.
Cardiff, who remain second from bottom, were powerless to stop the inevitable Liverpool onslaught. Brendan Rodgers’s side have racked up 24 goals across those last six league fixtures, an incredible return that underlines why they are not just legitimate title contenders but also entitled to stake a claim to be the most enjoyable team to watch in the Premier League at the moment.
Sunderland travel to Anfield on Wednesday night and it would be easy to forgive Gus Poyet and his players for arriving with a sense of trepidation.
It is the first of five home games Liverpool have in their remaining eight fixtures – another reason for supporters to believe this could be their year. “The immediate future is all I can focus on,” Rodgers said. “The fans can believe and dream – and that’s important when you’re a supporter. And when you come and see your team play away from home and score six goals, then you’ve got every right to do that.”
If there is one nagging doubt about Liverpool’s ability to finish top come 11 May, it is the defensive vulnerability that surfaced again here.
Cardiff, who have struggled for goals all season – Suárez alone has plundered more than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s entire squad – managed to score three times and on each occasion Liverpool’s defending left much to be desired. Conceding three and beating Cardiff, Stoke and Swansea is one thing; doing the same against Manchester City or Chelsea is quite another.
It was put to Rodgers that there are similarities between Liverpool and the Newcastle team that Kevin Keegan managed the first time around, when the modus operandi seemed to be to simply try to outscore opponents no matter what happened at the other end.
“I think we’re a totally different team to that – they were a wonderful team,” Rodgers said. “It’s not how we work. We don’t look to just outscore opponents, we work on our balance, we just conceded poor goals [today].
“We’re off the back off two clean sheets, which I take as much pride in. We just conceded too much space. But the key thing for me is how we respond, and how we’ve grown over the last 18 months has been that mental resilience and that confidence to know that we can get back into game, so I’m more pleased with that.”
For Solskjaer, the biggest frustration was the manner in which Liverpool went ahead for the first time. When Skrtel headed in Philippe Coutinho’s corner to put Liverpool 3-2 in front, Mutch and Kévin Théophile-Catherine were both off the pitch, after being ordered to leave the field following treatment. “I think you should look at that rule,” the Cardiff manager said. “How can you defend a corner kick with nine men, and two of your men have not faked anything, they’ve not dived, they just want to get [back] on the pitch. I said to the fourth official: ‘They’re going to score here.'”
Solskjaer was at least able to take some encouragement from the way Cardiff played in the first half. Mutch put them ahead in the fourth minute, after Campbell capitalised on Joe Allen’s wayward pass, and although Liverpool equalised through Suárez, following a fine move involving Glen Johnson and Jordan Henderson, Cardiff were soon back in front. Daniel Agger was left badly exposed by Mutch’s slide-rule pass and Campbell skipped past the Dane before confidently beating Simon Mignolet.
Skrtel then grabbed his first to bring Liverpool level, when he got in front of Juan Cala to volley in Coutinho’s cross, and the central defender added his second of the afternoon with a glancing header when Cardiff were down to nine men. Sturridge’s delightful backheel set up Suárez for the Uruguayan’s second and the roles were reversed for Liverpool’s fifth.
Suárez, running onto Johnson’s long diagonal pass, got away from Steven Caulker before crossing for Sturridge to tap home.
Mutch’s 88th-minute header, from a Kenwyne Jones knockdown, after the Liverpool defence again went missing, gave the scoreline a more respectable look from Cardiff’s point of view but Suárez was not finished. Shrugging off Cala, the striker sprinted clear in injury-time and beat David Marshall with nonchalant ease to register his third hat-trick of an extraordinary season. “He’s a remarkable player,” Rodgers said.