Liverpool 3-1 Cardiff: Elliott stunner helps Reds into fifth round
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06: Harvey Elliott of Liverpool celebrates scoring his side's third goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Liverpool and Cardiff City at Anfield on February 06, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

Harvey Elliott marked his return from injury with a stunning second half goal to help Liverpool book their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup following a comfortable 3-1 victory over Cardiff.

Diogo Jota fired the game's first goal eight minutes after the interval after a frustrating first half showing from Jurgen Klopp's side.

New boy Luis Diaz wasted no time in contributing for his new side, as he teed up Takumi Minamino from close range to put the game out of the reach of the Bluebirds.

Elliott sealed the game with a superb finish in front of the Kop with an exquisite finish, before Cardiff marked the occasion with a consolation goal deep into the second half.

The story of the game

Klopp named Diaz in the squad following his switch from Porto late last week, while Elliott was involved for the first time in 147 days after suffering a nasty ankle injury against Leeds United in September. 

The 18-year-old's return was coupled with that of midfielder Thiago Alcantara, who had spent the last seven weeks on the sidelines after sustaining a hip injury over the festive period.

The home side made an imposing start to the tie as Kostas Tsimikas and Curtis Jones forged an excellent understanding on the left-hand side, with the former an early thorn in the Cardiff defence as his willingness to overlap allowed the his teammates to come in-field.

Jota - still operating in the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane - should have continued his impressive streak  in front of goal when he excellently turned Aden Flint only to be denied from inside the box by Cardiff shot-stopper Dillion Phillips.

The Bluebirds would have been forgiven for allowing the 38 league positions between the slides to act as a caveat to bow down to the likes of Virgil van Dijk,  Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson.

However, Steve Morison's side held their own in the opening exchanges as they seized the opportunity of taking on one of European football powerhouses. 

Forward Mark Harris haggled his counterparts early on as he was instrumental to his side’s counter-attacking philosophy. And he thought he’d won his side a penalty after just 20 minutes when he went down under the presence of Ibrahima Konate, only for Andy Madley to immediately dismiss the appeals. 

Jones continued to place himself in between the lines as he looked to orchestrate chances for his attacking teammates but even after such domination from the home side, they were unable to replicate a clear-cut opening. 

Morison’s men nearly edged themselves ahead after a swift counter-attack resulted in Will Vaulk’s speculative effort from distance curling just wide of the post.

Liverpool’s best move of the half came just moments before the interval when Minamino and Roberto Firmino combined superbly in the box only for the Brazilian's cross to be blazed over the bar by the Jones - who arrived late - to round off an incredibly frustrating opening 45.

Things could have panned out differently for Klopp’s side as just 120 seconds into the restart Caoimhin Kelleher was booked for clattering into Harris 40 yards from goal.

Initially, Cardiff felt aggrieved with the decision, as they believed the Ireland international should have been given his marching orders. Though on reflection, with Konate making his way around Kelleher, VAR seemed to be satisfied with the call after a brief consultation.

The Reds finally made a breakthrough when Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick was flicked on by Jota with 53 minutes gone. It was another impressive finish from the forward who has burdened the responsibility of the Reds' front-line excellently during Salah and Mane's absence.

A few moments later Firmino thought he had put the game beyond the visitors when he rose highest to connect with Tsimikas’ cross, though his effort was all too comfortable for Phillips in-between the Cardiff sticks. 

Arguably the loudest cheer of the afternoon came just before the hour mark when Elliott and Diaz were simultaneously introduced. 

For Elliott, this was his first senior outing after a gruelling five months of rehabilitation. However, for Diaz, it was the start of a new journey as - despite only arriving in the country on Friday afternoon - he was introduced to his new adoring supporters. 

And the Colombian wasted no time impressing in his new surroundings as he hassled Perry Ng to win  the ball back on the byline, before demonstrating some fantastic footwork to tee up Minamino for a simple finish from inside the six-yard box.

Ensuring the Reds had a cruising lead with 22 minutes to play.

Though, the Colombian wasn’t the only substitute to stamp his mark on the fixture as shortly after Elliott grabbed the third goal for Klopp’s side with an emphatic finish from close-range, to lift the roof of Anfield.

One-hundred-and-fort-seven days after his devastating injury at Elland Road, the 18-year-old plucked Robertson’s cross out of the air, swivelled and unleashed an unstoppable strike past Phillips in front of the Kop. Netting his first goal for the club in some style.

A whole host of changes in the final 15 minutes zapped the rhythm out of the contest, as Thiago Alcantara, James Milner and Andy Robertson were all introduced by Klopp. Meaning that the Reds were able to put minutes into the legs of those who needed it most ahead of the gruelling February schedule. 

Cardiff, though, did give their supporters who made the long, trip to Merseyside something to cheer about when Rubin Colwill slotted past Kelleher with ten minutes left to play.

For Liverpool and Klopp a place in the fifth round awaits, where they will welcome Dean Smith and Norwich City to Anfield at the start of March, with both sides just two games away from a Wembley semi-final.

Starting XI's

Liverpool: Kelleher; TAA, Konate, Van Dijk, Tsimikas; Henderson, Keita, Jones; Minamino, Firmino, Jota

Cardiff: Phillips, Ng, McGuinness, Flint, Denham, Bagan, Vaulks, King, Pack, Harris, Collins