I’m Dreaming of a Top of the Table Christmas
The Reds are flying high and sitting in second place after dismantling Spurs at White Hart Lane. League leaders Arsenal will host Chelsea and if the Gunners fail to take all three points, Liverpool has a great chance to be top of the table on Christmas Day for the first time since 1996. The location in the table in May is of much more importance, but it would be a wonderful present for the fans nonetheless. While the club can’t control the outcome of the match at the Emirates, Liverpool will be hosting a Cardiff City club that will be happy just to finish out of the drop zone. Their part of the equation seems to be a reasonable undertaking, but take nothing for granted because this could be a classic example of a “trap game.”
A lot has been made of the importance of the tough stretch of away fixtures against Tottenham, Manchester City, and Chelsea. The Reds should be feeling pretty good about themselves after emphatically taking care of business in the first of those matches and hopefully they won’t be looking ahead to the higher-profile challenges on the horizon. Taking this week’s opponent lightly would be a mistake because Cardiff has demonstrated the ability to rise to the level of their opposition. The Bluebirds have already defeated Manchester City and fought to draws with Manchester United and Everton.
Liverpool and Cardiff are coming in to this match with some momentum after key victories. Not only did both clubs win, but both teams got the opposition manager sacked. AVB was sent packing after a downright embarrassing display that may be the signature victory of the Brendan Rodgers era to this point. Cardiff’s victory against West Brom may not have been of the same magnitude, but it marked the end of former Liverpool first-team coach Steve Clarke’s tenure with the Baggies and it moved the Bluebirds four points clear of the relegation zone.
With all that in mind, there aren’t many tangible reasons to think Liverpool won’t in fact take care of business and secure all three points. For starters, most of Cardiff’s positive results have come in Wales. Perhaps more significantly, the newly promoted club has been offensively inept, managing only 12 goals through 16 matches. Only four of those have been scored in away matches. (Luis Suarez himself has scored 17.) Peter Odemwingie’s winner against West Brom is the only goal the club has scored in the past six hours of football. In other words, Simon Mignolet has a great chance to record his 6th clean sheet of the season.
The Reds have been solid at Anfield, winning seven of eight and allowing only five total goals. In a perfect world, Suarez continues his hot streak, gives the team a comfortable lead, and he can be substituted before full-time to give him at least a little rest ahead of the Chelsea and Manchester City matches. Of course anything can happen and even a draw would be a huge disappointment. The Reds can’t afford to leave any points on the pitch if they intend to maintain a credible push toward a top four finish. With Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard sidelined with injury, Rodgers must stick with his 11 strongest players until the match is firmly in hand.
Finally, let’s take a moment to reminisce about the last time these clubs met. That was when the Bluebirds still wore blue and the clubs met in Wembley on a day which ultimately saw the Reds claim the League Cup under Kenny Dalglish. The improbable and dramatic final featured both clubs scoring in extra time, Charlie Adam rocketing a penalty kick 20 yards over the crossbar, and Steven Gerrard and his cousin both missing penalty kicks. All’s well that ends well, and ultimately it was Anthony Gerrard’s miss that secured silverware for Liverpool in the form of their 8th League Cup.
The Reds need to take care of business in regulation this week but let’s hope the good karma from the last meeting carries over through this match.