PreviewIdent

“I COULD hear the distant drums,

“The sounds of bugles were coming from afar,

“Can you hear the drums, Fernando?”

(Andersson, 1975)

Mo Salah could hear them. Sadio Mane could hear them. Bobby Firmino too. Three hearts beating as one. Once again.

Liverpool bounced back from a slump that has seen them win seven in nine league games, conceding just three goals. If Carlsberg did slumps they’d do them like the rampant Reds.

Against Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday night, Liverpool looked liked Liverpool once more. In truth, they looked like something a touch better. Yes, the opponents were hardly European royalty, but you can only demolish what’s in front of you with an orgy of goals while simultaneously looking like defensive perfection.

It is taken for granted that Liverpool must now forever and always be the side that will score four goals or more. Prior to midweek though, they had only put four past an opponent (West Ham) on the opening matchday of the season. Lost in mumbled conversations about the front three having lost their mojo and around Salah’s exploits perhaps being just a one-season phenomenon, was the reality of Liverpool’s fixture schedule thus far.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 24, 2018: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Liverpool FC and FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In 12 games we’d been paired with Manchester City, Chelsea twice, Paris Saint-Germain, as well as Napoli, Spurs, Leicester and Crystal Palace away. These were not games, in the main, where Liverpool were able to exactly cut loose last term.

In this sample (looking at just the league games) during 2017-18, Liverpool won three times, lost twice scoring 10 times, conceding 10 times. This time out, we’ve won three times, but haven’t lost, scoring seven times, conceding just three times. The unbeaten Reds are improving. The data don’t lie.

A home banker weekend represents rare respite for Liverpool in recent times. That it coincides with title rivals Man City matching up against fellow hopefuls Spurs, is significant. We simply must make hay and hope that Spurs can stay resolute enough not to be beaten at home by City. Breathing space is everything in this league.

We travel to flying Arsenal next week. A win would be golden but a draw an entirely reasonable result. The chances of us pulling away from City, or even the likes of Chelsea or Spurs aren’t great in the near present, but every week we can look at a table and see no other side with more points than us takes us another step closer to our nirvana. I’d happily see us nip and tucking this close to fellow challengers right up until May.

This Saturday’s opponents are not in a good place. One of football’s many cruelties is how it takes promoted sides from the highs of winning seasons, and the ecstasy of play-off glory, so quickly towards the ignominy of the kind of campaign Cardiff are enduring. Prior to last weekend they were winless, beaten seven times. A first (4-2) win over co-strugglers Fulham a week ago will have given them hope.

No pundits are backing Neil Warnock’s team against Liverpool this weekend, despite this. They will definitely miss Lee Peltier, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Danny Ward and Joe Ralls. They’re hopeful Gary Madine returns from his sick bed.

Liverpool have the relative luxury of a seven-day lull until the Arsenal game, and barring after effects of the Champions League game, Jürgen Klopp will see no reason not to go full strength. What that actually manifests itself as in midfield is unclear, with Jordan Henderson out, and James Milner being eased in out of games following his thigh strain injury.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 29, 2018: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson (left) hands the captain's armband to James Milner during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There’s some talk of an early return for Naby Keita from a hamstring problem, but my guess is that Klopp will challenge Wednesday night’s new look, and impressive midfield to go again. Expect Fabinho to push on, Gini Wijnaldum to control, and Xherdan Shaqiri to continue banging against all doors, open or otherwise.

“There was something in the air that night,

“The stars were bright, Fernando…”

Predicted 11: Alisson; Trent, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Mane, Firmino, Shaqiri; Salah

Kick off: 3pm, Saturday

Referee: Stuart Attwell

Odds: Liverpool 1-9, Draw 37-4, Cardiff City 24-1

For more buildup to the Cardiff clash, and extensive reaction in the immediate aftermath, SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player…

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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo

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