Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum thinks teams in survival mode can be trickier opponents than their Premier League title rivals.
The Reds overcame some stubborn resistance from Cardiff on Saturday, eventually prevailing 4-1 at Anfield – a result that arguably flattered the hosts despite a one-sided contest.
Cardiff showed little inclination to attack against a side that enjoyed 80 per cent possession and had 19 attempts on goal but it was not until the closing stages that Liverpool put the game to bed.
And Wijnaldum acknowledged that taking on teams happy to sit back and soak up the pressure presents a unique challenge – even if it was one Liverpool passed with flying colours in the end.
He said: “It’s more difficult than other games. When you play a top team they are trying to create chances, so when you have the ball you will have more spaces, they will try to press you.
“But with them they don’t really press. They were marking the spaces and their wingers played like left-back and right-back.
“It was difficult but we managed to score four goals.”
Mohamed Salah opened the scoring after 10 minutes with his fourth goal in the space of eight days – following on from his winner at Huddersfield and his brace against Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League.
The Egyptian has struggled to hit the heights he achieved in his debut campaign on Merseyside, in which he won the Golden Boot, but is gradually rediscovering his scoring touch.
Wijnaldum admits the recent signs are promising but said: “He has to continue to do that in a lot of games, not only the three games.
“He’s in a good way and hopefully he can keep it like that.”
Sadio Mane doubled Liverpool’s lead midway through the second half but Callum Paterson halved the deficit with a little under a quarter of an hour to go with Cardiff’s first effort on goal.
There were a few nervy moments but as Cardiff went in search of a leveller, they left themselves vulnerable at the back and Xherdan Shaqiri’s first Liverpool goal restored the two-goal cushion in the 84th minute.
Mane then added gloss to the scoreline three minutes later on the counter, prompting suggestions that Liverpool were jolted into action by Cardiff’s goal.
Wijnaldum added: “It’s difficult to say. Maybe, because we scored two goals after they scored one.
“That’s what we tried the whole game but also because they had the feeling they could score one more so we had more spaces.
“In the first half we didn’t have a lot of chances from counter-attacks.
“They were defending quite deep and even when the ball was going forward, they didn’t push up, they were standing behind because they know that we have fast players in the front.
“It was difficult to score when it was like that but after 2-1 they thought they had a chance which is normal and they were better in the game.”