For all of the free-flowing desires of Liverpool the irony won’t be lost on Klopp. It was the dead ball which undid Cardiff and thrust Liverpool back to the Premier League summit.
Forget the front three. It was Liverpool’s no-nonsense midfielders who saved the day on foreign soil.
First Wijnaldum and then old man Milner orchestrated Liverpool’s ascension back to the top.
Milner—who was brought on due to Fabinho‘s head injury—put it beyond Cardiff clutches, but the wily veteran should not have been on in the first place.
A worrying head injury to substitute Fabinho saw Klopp forced into the change with the No. 3 having only been on for less than four minutes.
Despite initial fears from the manager and Liverpool’s medical staff, Klopp allayed concerns about the long-lasting effects.
“It was very unlucky. Fabinho is OK but he had a bit of shaky legs and that’s of course not a good sign in the moment,” Klopp said.
Once Milner entered the pitch Liverpool were in a position of strength but faced vulnerability just as their north-west rivals had a day earlier.
Fittingly, a former Man City player heaped pressure on those at the Etihad with a moment of ruthlessness.
The anxiety and nervousness in the away end was palpable, but a world away from Liverpool’s No. 7 as he stepped up to the spot.
With one swift strike of the ball their feelings matched those of the joyous 11. After 80 minutes of difficulty, Liverpool now had comfort.
From then on, they stroked the ball around with ease and fluidity previously unseen.
Mohamed Salah’s crafty centre-forward play critically won the spot-kick to inflame the already-boisterous Neil Warnock.
Cardiff captain Sean Morrison couldn’t resist putting his arms around Salah, with the Egyptian going down under the contact.
The Bluebirds’ plan worked to perfection for almost an hour. They sat back as expected, allowing the likes of Jordan Henderson to operate without pressure—almost daring them to go past.
Liverpool were left to feed on scraps for the most part and failed to register a shot on target until 11 minutes before the break.
Cardiff carried a threat of their own too, with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing blasting past Trent Alexander-Arnold on multiple occasions.
It proved reminiscent of the battle with Marcus Rashford at Old Trafford last March. Thankfully for Liverpool this time there was no end product.
The Reds set out with a sense of urgency after the break which culminated in the Dutchman’s third of the season. After playing a pivotal role as a No. 6, Wijnaldum picked the perfect moment to display his big-match attacking threat.
Left unmarked, he ran onto an Alexander-Arnold corner, smashing a half-volley with absolute purity.
As soon as it left his boot it was in. The strike had such ferocity you had to check whether the net had burst.
The celebration told you all you needed to know. As the slogan goes: this means more. Sprinting off toward the Kopites, Wijnaldum beat his chest with primordial passion.
On a day where Liverpool’s forward trident failed to do the business, Klopp’s unheralded stars went above and beyond.
Part of the midfield which has faced criticism for a lack of proficiency, Wijnaldum and Milner picked the right time to silence the critics.
Many forget the combination of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum were central to Liverpool’s journey to Kyiv last season.
For those still doubting their value, this was their moment in the sun. Under the glistening blue skies in south Wales, Liverpool’s goalscoring duo stole some of the spotlight.
If Liverpool can find themselves with the title come May’s end, they will be unsung no longer.