Monday, August 8, 2022

Liverpool run riot to knock Cardiff out of FA Cup

Liverpool’s new £40mlllion midfielder could have been forgiven for taking delight in the fervour which issued around this stadium as he was about to make his second half entry. But it was the 18-year-old standing beside him on the touchline whom Anfield was preparing a welcome for, not Luis Diaz.
The sight of Harvey Eliiott being stretched off at Elland Road in September, an oxygen mask on his face as he suffered the first agonies of an ankle dislocation. His recovery within five months has been remarkable and was matched by a goal here which underlined his direction of travel in the game. Elliott tracked the trajectory of Andrew Robertson’s 76th minute cross from the left, applied his studs of his left boot to bring it under control and swivelled to despatch shot of power and precision. Elliott was mobbed. This was no ordinary goal celebration.
Diaz was by no means eclipsed in the half hour of football that he and Elliott shared after Liverpool had put a frustrating first half behind them. His watchfulness saw him burgle possession and set up Liverpool’s second goal. He might have provided an earlier one for Elliott had a pass not been fractionally over-hit.
The two provided a new level of urgency to a Liverpool side whose 5th Round tie at home to Norwich City creates the prospect of progress deep into a tournament they’ve not won for 16 years.
But Elliott delivered the real dynamism. He was the one who demonstrated, in a way that neither Takumi Minamino nor Naby Keita remotely managed, that he can become a major player here.
The fuel injected by the two substitutes was necessary, given Liverpool’s struggle to break though against a side they had put 12 goals past in their previous three encounters. The first half’s solitary piece of excellence brought the solitary shot on goal, when Diogo Jota dragged a ball back through teenager Olive Denham’s legs and fired at goalkeeper Dillon Phillips.
In possession, there was elegance from Minamino, cutting in from the right to wriggle across the front of defence. But the physicality is missing when he runs into a serious challenge. It was the tried and tested method which provided the breakthrough. Trent Alexander-Arnold despatched another of the imperious free-kicks which had set the team on the way at Selhurst Park two weeks ago. Jota levered himself onto it, again demonstrating what an excellent heading capacity he has for a 5ft 10in forward. For once, Cardiff’s defence, which had been so resolute, was lacking. The free kick looped over Marlon Pack and Mack McGuiness was slow to react, leaving Jota unchallenged.
Intermittently, Cardiff deployed the counter-attacking strategy which was their only hope: rapid, long balls to exploit Liverpool’s high line. They pleaded for a penalty in the first half when Ibrahim Konate, trailing the rapid Mark Harris as he ran into Liverpool’s area, had some contact with the player.
Cardiff manager Steve Morison felt a penalty should have been awarded. There was also an anxious moment for Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher as he raced out of his area to approach the onrushing Harris in the second half and brought him down. But Konate was covering and even Morison accepted it. He was justifiably more distressed by his side’s defending. Perry Ng’s decision to dribble out of trouble on his own by-line was a calamitous ahead of the second, with Diaz lurking to steal the ball, deftly keep it in possession and spy the advancing Minamino who drove the ball in off Phillips.
After Cardiff had scored a consolation – substitute Rubin Colwill dispossessing Minamino, trading passes with Isaak Davies and running through to score – Liverpool feared for Diaz. The 6ft 5in Cardiff defender Aden Flint trod on the Portuguese’s knee as he lay on the pitch after the two had gone up for a high ball together. But Elliott was the one who owned this afternoon. At the end of it all, he lingered, eventually wandering over to the Kop and placing his hand on his heart. He was the last Liverpool player to leave the pitch.

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