Cardiff doesn’t look quite right, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why.
There are a few obvious reasons. They are missing a few key midfielders in Joe Ralls, Leandro Bacuna and most importantly Ryan Giles, who was put down by Covid. The quality of his passing and set-piece was a key asset in the first few weeks and was noticeably poor in his absence on Wednesday night in the loss at Coventry.
Cardiff also severed ties with most of its flair players this summer. Even with these guys on the spot it could still be a bit of a pain, but without them Cardiff is even more blunt and less inventive.
All that aside, Cardiff looks a lot like last year, but it’s not quite the same.
When Mick McCarthy took control, it wasn’t long before he changed his form. Whether it was a pragmatic decision, making the most of the options available, or just using a form he was familiar and comfortable with. Whatever the motivation, it worked wonders. Cardiff looked compact, fluid and confident as they embarked on a long unbeaten run that propelled them up the standings.
This season, the strengths of form are more difficult to identify. Cardiff appear to concede the same types of goals over and over again and Coventry’s goal was one example.
Somehow, Cardiff managed to concede on their own touch, near the Coventry corner flag. They lost possession at the edge of the Coventry box and a pass later, two if you’re nice, they got the ball back in their net. It took about nine seconds and it turned out to be a knockout.
Time and time again this season, opponents have swept through Cardiff’s midst, largely unopposed and with great success in both dribbling and passing. Part of the problem is that Cardiff are often outnumbered in central midfield, due to the presence of an additional central defender. The other issue is that most of the sides they face are more nimble and faster, but it’s a long-standing issue that I’ve found myself writing about over and over in recent years.
Still, that wasn’t the case last season, so what has changed? It’s the same shape with much of the same staff, so why are they getting caught so often now? Are they engaging too much forward or are they just slower to come back?
Three central defenders are supposed to solidify the defense, but on the contrary, they hamper each other, as the midfielders pass between them and the attackers pass them. This is the one area of the squad where Cardiff has a plethora of options, so maybe the rotation can help them find the right mix or rest tired legs.
Marlon Pack was probably the best player in Cardiff and you’d hate to lose his pass higher up the pitch, but I have to admit I’m disappointed that the experience of playing him as a center-back turned out to be short. He has the sense and the ability to be a real asset there and anything that allows or encourages Cardiff to play from behind would be welcome.
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It’s great to see Cardiff promoting so many young players this year and none of them have looked out of place, but they all face a steep learning curve and it’s inevitable at this point in their careers that they make mistakes, so it’s up to the senior players to strengthen themselves and help them acclimatize.
Rubin Colwill looks like a real talent, but I wonder if he is quite ready for the demands and starting expectations for his club and country at this point in his development. It’s a sentiment that has to some extent been echoed by Mick McCarthy, as natural talent has to match intelligence in games.
The lurking and insidious nature of Covid still lurks in the shadows too. Cardiff managed to keep him at bay last season but a few in the squad have him now and as we know the effects of having him can linger and should not be underestimated.
The Championship is a strange and old place this season. Only £ 40million has been spent in the division this year and only 37 transactions involved fees. Eight clubs made no signings and those in Cardiff were free loans and transfers. There is a slightly flat feel to things and the expectations aren’t as high as they usually are.
On top of that, Cardiff has lost all of their wingers which might not be a big deal when playing with wingers but in turn limits the formations you could play. He’s also considered by many to be the most exciting position on the pitch, so there’s something symbolic about not really having a lot at the club.
Cardiff will face Bournemouth this weekend and although Cardiff tend to perform better against teams higher in the table than in the lower games, they present a formidable opponent. High flying, free scoring and one of the clear favorites for promotion, it will be a good test for Cardiff. The hope is that they can rise to the occasion, but the fear is that Cardiff could be a real cover-up.
Cardiff may be ninth, but there are warning signs. They haven’t scored any goals in the first half of their league games so far and have managed to save results which shows courage and wit, but slow starts are now a theme. recurrent. There have been a lot of headers, so many that there’s even a song about them, but when their dead bullet deliveries are cut short, the threat from Cardiff is all but wiped out.
His debut, but perhaps changing form or staff, Cardiff needs to get his mojo back as at the moment they aren’t cutting him off entirely. A winning statement would certainly do the trick.
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