Cardiff City vs Newcastle United
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Craig Pawson
Newcastle United will travel to the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday afternoon and with both sides suffering opening day losses, their attention should remain on consolidating upon impressive performances.
Cardiff returned to life in the Premier League after a four-year absence and their opening game was a challenging trip to the Vitality Stadium against AFC Bournemouth, a clash that posed a vast contrast of footballing styles.
Bournemouth are beginning to appear an accomplished top-flight club after three years of overachievement relative to their humble status; however, Cardiff were still able to create opportunities through their uniquely direct approach.
Despite this, it was evident that The Blue Birds had suffered from a summer of chronic underinvestment in attack; solely Bobby Reid arriving in Cardiff for a reported £10m fee from Bristol City. Relative to the extensive preparation undergone by both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham in their attacking armouries, it could be the Welsh capitals undoing. Neil Warnock acknowledged this after proceedings, admitting his players appeared “nervous”.
It took Cardiff an extensive period to register their single shot on target; the key to getting all three points against Newcastle will be to unsettle The Magpies earlier than they managed on the opening day. If Warnock’s side are as tenacious and vertical as they played last season, then Newcastle could struggle, as Rafa Benitez’s defence have a tendency to become exposed against this style of play.
A win would signify Cardiff City’s intent not to conform to the pre-assigned tag of relegation certainties.
Any repeat in fortunes in front of goal on Saturday represents a failure to capitalise on the abundance of opportunities created. Drawing against the side that finished 10th last season is hardly catastrophic. Although it is widely accepted Newcastle’s recruitment this summer was also underwhelming, meaning both sides face the prospect of relegation if impetus isn’t captured early on.
Back to back defeats for The Magpies would also be a significant disappointment, based on a promising display against Tottenham Hotspur. Jan Vertonghen’s eighth-minute header could have burst open the floodgates.
In spite of this setback, Newcastle showed a calmness and maturity that manifested in glimpses last term; this was achieved by reacting in the right manner to instantly level through Joselu. But moments later another lapse in concentration reinstated Tottenham’s lead. Maintaining the initial mental fortitude will be essential in their fight for Premier League survival.
Replicating the performance against Spurs will likely see this weekend’s away side gain victory, which should be considered an auspicious start. Although, The Magpies exhibited an equal lack of composure with just 13% of their shots on target last time out. Integrating new arrivals of the established Premier League order in Ki Sung-yueng and Salomon Rondon should give the visitors enough experience to dispose of their newly promoted hosts, who might still be finding their feet in the division.
Benitez will ultimately decide as to when his summer additions are ready, but hinted that he was pleased with “Joselu’s work rate” and that “Now we have more time, everyone has to fight for their place”. The statement was a strong indication the Spaniard did enough to warrant another start, but elsewhere changes could be made.
One of those changes could be Deandre Yedlin; the American right-back is a slight doubt through injury. Although due to a lack of replacements, also depending on the severity of the knock, there’s a possibility he will start.
Newcastle’s only other absentee is Florian Lejeune, who has undergone knee surgery after cruciate ligament damage.
Fortunately, Magpies supporters kept their protests outside St James’ Park and in front of Sports Direct last Saturday; this was an effective strategy as not to impede the performance of their players and maintain a positive atmosphere within the stadium. Hopefully the same will be done again in Cardiff as a sign of respect to both players and manager for their impressive achievement last term.
In contrast hosts Cardiff appear unified; preserving squad morale is essential if they are to start to build momentum. One addition that could boost this is the availability of Harry Arter, after being unable to face his parent club Bournemouth last time out.
Notably, Aron Gunnarsson will be unavailable for Warnock’s side once again. The Icelandic international missed the clash at the Vitality Stadium, and his manager suggested afterwards he may be sidelined for a couple of weeks.
As well as this, striker Kenneth Zahore is also doubtful, due to a groin injury that caused him to miss last weekend. Although if he’s required, he could make an appearance off the bench.
Predicted starting XI’s:
Cardiff City: Etheridge; Peltier, Manga, Morrison, Bennett; Sol Bamba; Mendez-Laing, Ralls, Paterson, Hoilett; Reid
Newcastle United: Dubravka; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy; Perez; Joselu
Predicted score: Cardiff City 1 Newcastle United 2
Once again Cardiff will create chances through direct verticality, undoubtedly posing a threat to the visitors. But their sheer lack of a clinical forward might fail to mask the team’s technical limitations, leaving both sides equally exposed in what should make for an entertaining encounter. Experience and guile in the form of Rafa Benitez should prove the difference, as it so often has during his tenure.