Having played well but missed out on a win last week against Watford, there is pressure to get all three points in this upcoming game against Cardiff City. With the six games following this one against teams in the top eight (including three in a row against the current top three) it is imperative that we add to our current three-point buffer from the relegation zone.
If we can harness the energy levels and battling nature of the performance against Watford into these next seven games, we should be able to pick up points in this run. The doubt is whether we have enough quality at either end of the pitch to take advantage of opportunities to pick up the wins we may need to get over the coming month. We are entering a crucial phase of the campaign.
Despite the returns of Amadou Bakayoko and Tyler Walker to the matchday squad, the biggest boost to Mark Robins’ team selection for this game is that right wing-back, Julien Dacosta, is available after suffering a migraine last week, rather than concussion. As much as Bakayoko and Walker’s availability helps reduce the burden on Maxime Biamou, having a natural in that right wing-back position helps stretch the play and helps address the team’s biggest issue of creating quality chances.
Elsewhere, the big team selection decision for Mark Robins is whether to stick with the 3-5-1-1 shape from last week that made us so combative and compact or go for two up front in an attempt to address our attacking issues. Both decisions carry their own drawbacks, the 3-5-1-1 leaving Maxime Biamou isolated, two up top risking us getting overrun in midfield. The lack of fit and viable attacking options – despite Bakayoko and Walker’s returns – may well force Mark Robins into going for the safer option and perhaps changing things later on if we need a goal.
Last Time We Met
We were in need of a win when we took on Cardiff City at St Andrew’s towards the end of November. In what was a pretty dour affair with both sides lacking a spark going forward, a calamitous defensive error from Cardiff was pounced upon by Tyler Walker to score the game’s only goal.
The Manager – Mick McCarthy
A lot of clubs these days want to develop a progressive forward-thinking philosophy, signing young players and attracting up-and-coming managers, Cardiff City seem to be just about the only club that have taken the opposite approach. With one of the division’s oldest squads, Cardiff’s last three managerial appointments have been Neil Warnock, Neil Harris and Mick McCarthy, who have all placed an emphasis on old-school battling qualities over namby-pamby tippy-tappy modern football.
Appointed last month with the team unexpectedly struggling, despite having finished in the play-offs last year and recruited strongly over the summer, Mick McCarthy has quickly corrected Cardiff’s course this season, winning two and drawing two of the four games he’s had in charge. In a similar manner to his predecessor, Neil Harris, last season, McCarthy hasn’t changed much about an underperforming Cardiff City side but has provided them with the kick in the back-side required to turn around a nosedive in form.
Who To Look Out For
Cardiff’s underperformance this season had been pretty mystifying given the calibre of their squad. With a solid and experienced defensive unit, marshalled by goalkeeper, Alex Smithies, and the dominant Sean Morrison at centre-back, Cardiff had added some significant attacking quality over the summer in the forms of wingers Sheyi Ojo and Harry Wilson, and the beanpole centre-forward, Kieffer Moore.
Those attacking players have largely made the impact expected of them. The pacey and well-built Ojo, has five goals and six assists to his name and has been a reliable ball-carrying threat out wide. Wilson has been a little inconsistent but is the kind of player who can light up a game when on top form and has an element of cynicism to his game – often going down a little softly or slyly leaving his boot in opponents. Up front, Moore is more than just a target-man, capable of running in behind and finishing while also being tough for defenders to deal with physically.
One of the key problems Cardiff have faced this season is that those attacking players have carried so much of the goalscoring and creative burden for the side. In particular, Moore is just about Cardiff’s only striker, with the unproven at Championship level, Max Watters, his only back-up and seemingly not yet trusted by McCarthy.
In central midfield, Cardiff have several very reliable, sturdy Championship players in Joe Ralls, Marlon Pack and Will Vaulks. While it has been a bit of an issue that none are particularly capable of dictating games and opening opponents up with their range of passing, they provide a solid structure in front of the defence, with Vaulks’ energy levels capable of providing a link between midfield and attack.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
For the fourth game in a row, we face a side whose biggest attacking threat comes out wide. After some struggles recently, it was encouraging to see Sam McCallum put in a pretty solid defensive performance last time out against Watford’s Ismaila Sarr but he, and Dacosta on the other side, are likely to appreciate any support they can get from their team-mates to deal with Cardiff’s Wilson and Ojo.
The battle between Leo Ostigard and Kieffer Moore is likely to be another key area of the game. The Norwegian was excellent last week in containing Troy Deeney, but faces a tough battle against a striker who is not only taller than Deeney but much more mobile. That aggression that Ostigard puts in to the challenge could risk leaving space in behind, which Michael Rose and Dominic Hyam are going to have to be aware of and look to cover for.
Providing Maxime Biamou with support in the form of getting players into the penalty area is going to be important if we are looking to win this game, rather than simply contain Cardiff’s attacking threat. Cardiff’s defence will relish competing with Biamou physically and in the air, putting the emphasis on the mobility and craftiness of Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare in support of our French centre-forward.