There are two or three distinct relegation races going on in the Premier League at this time. At the top, between Liverpool and Manchester City, whosoever comes second will consider themselves relegated to the mediocrity of the top four. The other four sides vying for the remaining two top-four places will consider fifth and sixth positions as relegation. While at the bottom, Cardiff and Brighton are engaged in an actual relegation battle. Two sides of those involved in these relegation battles go head to head on Sunday evening as Liverpool travel to Cardiff City Stadium in Wales for the 35th game of the season for both sides.
Depending on how Brighton fare at Wolves on Saturday, Cardiff could be playing to either jump over them in the table, or to keep up with them. While Cardiff manager Neil Warnock is struggling to find a chink in Liverpool’s armour, he believes that with a full house behind them, his side can be a handful as they showed a few game weeks back against West Ham. Neil Warnock’s side showed admirable character to win mid-week in their six-pointer against Brighton. But, a loss on Sunday, if combined with a win for Brighton on Saturday, can reinstate that five-point gap that Cardiff eliminated so bravely. The only problem is that they will run into a needing-to-win, in red-hot form Liverpool.
The Reds simply cannot let up. If Tottenham can grind out another performance at the Etihad on Saturday and leave with a point or three, then Liverpool have to win to capitalize on the opportunity. If Manchester City take revenge against Spurs for dumping them out of Champions League, then the Reds have to win to keep up the pressure. Either way, they cannot afford to lose or perhaps even draw this game. Liverpool come into this game after thrashing Porto 1-4 in Portugal on Wednesday night. The Reds have booked their place into their second-successive Champions League semi-final, this time against Barcelona. However, as Jurgen Klopp kept insisting throughout the post-match conference after Porto and also in the pre-match conference on Friday, his side are focused on Cardiff and are not taking them lightly. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, they simply cannot afford to.
- Cardiff’s previous meetings with Liverpool have not been very happy. They have lost their three Premier League games against Liverpool conceding 13 goals, losing 6-3 at home last time Liverpool came visiting.
- Liverpool have beaten five sides so far in their first four Premier League meetings. A Reds win on Sunday could mean that the Bluebirds will become the sixth such side. Liverpool have won each of their last nine Premier League matches against newly promoted sides, scoring 27 goals and conceding just three. The Reds, however, have never won 10 such matches so far in the Premier League.
- Liverpool love playing on the Easter Sunday. No team has played as many Premier League games on Easter as Liverpool have and they have only lost once in seven such games. Their form is not bad either. The Reds have won their last five Premier League games with the winning goals coming after half-time each time.
- Expectedly, Cardiff’s record against the Premier League regulars is not that great. They have picked up only two points from their 22 games against the six ever-present sides in the Premier League.
Mendez-Laing has not been a regular starter for Neil Warnock. But, after his goal on Tuesday night, Warnock might give him another chance to show his form. His xG90 + xA90 is a mere 0.13, which means that he is likely to contribute a goal once in eight games. But then the best attackers available to Warnock do not have xG90+xA90 combined over 0.35. Mendez-Laing can be a handful on the right wing and can try to keep Andy Robertson in check. His two league goals this season might not but his possible form warrants him a starting place against Liverpool.
Liverpool front three are starting to click as they did throughout last season and a large part of the credit goes to Sadio Mane’s form in 2019. Mane has scored 10 goals in his last 12 Premier League games for Liverpool and at the start of this game week he is joint-top with Sergio Aguero for the highest number of Premier League goals in 2019 (10). Overall, he has scored 18 and assisted one goal in 2740 minutes, resulting in an xG90+xA90 figure of 0.60 (0.63 in 2019), which gives him an excellent chance of contributing a goal every time he starts.
Cardiff have a midfield shortage brewing possibly. Warnock will hope that at least one of Gunarsson and Harry Arter are fit to play on Sunday as they both are doubtful. Sol Bamba, Callum Paterson, and Matthew Connolly represent the long-time injured list.
For Liverpool, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might still not make it due to match-fitness and with Dejan Lovren being doubtful again, Joe Gomez will hope to get a few minutes in the defence once again. Adam Lallana remains doubtful due to his injury.
Cardiff City were the opponents when Liverpool last won any silverware. That was seven years back and it was the League Cup. This time, the Bluebirds can be the opponents to trip Liverpool’s charge for the League title itself. However, given the trajectories of the two sides since that final in February 2012, and given the gulf between the two sides’ qualities, if Liverpool drop any points on Sunday, they will have themselves to blame. Nerves aside, Liverpool should win with relative ease.
Cardiff 0 – 3 Liverpool