Cardiff City are back on the big stage, but how will things pan out this time around?
The 2017/18 Season
The Welsh side began last season with mellow expectations, with not many fans garnering hopes of promotion. However, the Bluebirds defied expectations and then some. Buoyed on by tremendous team spirit, work ethic and a staunch manager they went on to achieve direct promotion by finishing second on a jubilant final day of the Championship.
Cardiff trumped over other sides who played better football aesthetically, as Neil Warnock achieved a record eighth promotion. They defied critics aplenty, as they were 33-1 underdogs before the season to make the playoffs, let alone secure direct promotion. The 2017/18 was undoubtedly a glorious one in Cardiff’s recent history, but sterner tests will await them in the Premier League.
Manager and Preferred Tactics
Manager Neil Warnock has a stellar record in the lower leagues, but he has not been able to continue that in the top flight. He is infamous for his pragmatic style and penchant for grinding out results rather than playing expressive football.
Last season in the Championship Cardiff ranked lowest for passes and passes completed in the opposition half. Warnock’s men also topped the aerial duels and attempts from set pieces. These stats suggest correctly that Cardiff play a solid, uncompromising and at times, an unattractive brand of football. But no one can argue about its effectiveness.
Also, Cardiff also possess otherworldly talent in an attacking sense, which is one of the reasons for Warnock’s tactics.
The step upward into the Premier League will arguably cement these tactics further. Historically promoted sides play such a brand due to their relative ‘lack of quality’ and Cardiff will look to do more of the same.
The Cardiff unit boasts of solid performers throughout, but certain members still stand out. Junior Hoilett shouldered much of the creative burden last season and he will be their key man once again. He will surely hope to build on last term’s 11 goals.
Kenneth Zohore will lead the line for Warnock yet again, a tremendously hard-working striker who should chip in with a double-digit goal tally.
Midfield general Joe Ralls is an underrated player, whose classy performances often go unnoticed. But he is a vital component in his side, and his absence is keenly felt.
One of Cardiff’s main strengths is their defence, which is marshaled mainly by Sol Bamba and skipper Sean Morrison. Bamba, in particular, was signed for free and has gone on to repay Warnock’s faith quite handsomely. But perhaps not as good as Virgil van Dijk.
Morrison has captained the side for two seasons now, and he has performed the duties admirably in a short span. His leadership qualities are visible on the pitch as the centre-back has developed into a mature player. He has won over the adulation of the fans, who absolutely adore him.
The skipper was voted as Cardiff City Player of the Year last season after his mammoth performances in defence. Morrison has had a stint in the Premier League with Reading but leading his own side out will be a different experience altogether.
Cardiff have spent almost £30 million in the transfer window, which appears to be negligible compared to their elite rivals. Left-back Greg Cunningham joined from Preston North End. Cunningham, a Manchester City youth product. is a solid performer who impressed at Preston.
Bobby Reid was recruited from Bristol City, who was in the PFA Team of the Championship last season. Reid contributed to 26 goals by scoring and assisting last season, which speaks volumes of his abilities. He will hope to displace Zohore from the starting lineup.
Goalkeeper Alex Smithies and winger Josh Murphy have also been added, who are utility additions to a side which has remained more or less the same from last year. Cardiff have not splashed the money around like fellow newbies Fulham and Wolves, but whether that is a good thing remains to be seen.
Just like for any other promoted side, the prime objective is staying up and taking it forward from there. Warnock does not have happy memories of the top flight and he will surely look to rectify that. He has utilised the transfer window cautiously and perhaps it is the wise approach.
Going into the season Cardiff are favourites to face the drop, and the odds are 8/13 in their ‘favour’. Holding their own in the Premier League would be a huge achievement for Cardiff, and with the odds they have defied thus far, they just might do it.