The pre World Cup fixture pile-up brings Latics our third game of the week as we welcome Cardiff City to the DW Stadium. Saturday afternoon’s fixture promises to be a hard fought affair between two sides looking for a victory to settle them into what has become an incredibly congested ‘mid table’ in the Championship.
Latics lost their unbeaten away record in midweek to Hull City and will now be desperate to bring an end to our long winless run at home. This squad have a good record when it comes to bouncing back from negative results and this weekend offers us the chance to do just that against a Cardiff side hovering around us in mid table.
The Bluebirds, just like Rotherham and Hull in our previous two games, are managerless but caretaker boss Mark Hudson has brought some stability to the side after Steve Morrison was relieved of his duties in September. A draw at Burnley was followed by a win at home to Blackburn in midweek so they’re definitely a side capable of good performances and will give Latics a stern test at the DW.
Latics Team News
If writing these match previews have taught me anything its that Leam Richardson and I don’t seem to agree on starting 11s, and that’s probably why we’re doing so well! However, I think even Leam would admit that after the performance on Tuesday night the side is in need of a change or two just to freshen things up a bit, especially given the fact there are only 2 rest days between the games.
There are a couple of players on the bench that I think ought to start on Saturday as a result of their own performances and the less impressive performances of those currently in the starting 11. There are also players not in the squad I’m hoping to see involved sooner rather than later, but I must stress I have no inside knowledge on injury and fitness news so my suggestions might not actually be possible in reality.
Ben Amos will face his former club on Saturday should he start between the sticks. He spent the 2016/17 season on loan in the Welsh capital and will be keen to show them what they’re missing with a good performance. He’s been criticised for the goals he conceded at Hull, particularly the first one, so needs to bounce back with a good showing here, which I’m sure he will.
The back 4 were uncharacteristically disjointed at Hull and Leam explained his surprise at this post match. The left side especially struggled a lot and I’d look at bringing Kerr and Bennett into the starting 11, dropping Tilt and pushing McClean further forward. The decision to drop Tilt might seem harsh but I rate Kerr’s ability on the ball higher than the Jamaican international’s and I think he deserves another chance in the starting 11.
I absolutely believe that Graeme Shinnie should come into the midfield, I don’t think that’s a controversial statement whatsoever. We’re crying out for a driving force in the middle, someone who can get on the ball and force his way up the pitch whilst also remaining defensively sound. Naylor was well off the pace against Hull and is probably the likelier of the 2 CMs to miss out, but Max Power will also be looking to put in some better performances to cement his spot in the side.
I think it’s time we bring James McClean back into his favoured LW role. Him on one wing and Thelo on the other gives us pace, trickery and creativity, as well as giving us a genuine attacking option on the bench in Nathan Broadhead. The Everton loanee looks bright but has struggled to impact games from the start, and I feel as though he could be the ultimate ‘super sub’ for us this season. Give him 30 minutes against tired defences and he’ll get double figure goals this season.
Josh Magennis returned to the starting 11 on Wednesday night and it seemed to change the complexity of our attacks completely. Whether it be his fault or not I don’t know but we seem to be so much more direct when he’s on the pitch and I can’t understand why as he’s more than capable of getting involved in passing moves too, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
If Charlie Wyke is fit to start I would start him as he really impressed me at Rotherham. To be honest though, whoever starts up front won’t really be relevant if we play as we did on Wednesday as our game plan made it a thankless task being the number 9 at times. Simply because I think he’s the more complete player though I’d favour starting Charlie.
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into tomorrow’s fixture I’ve called in the help of someone far more knowledgeable on Cardiff City than myself!
1) It’s been an interesting start to the season for Cardiff City and you currently sit in 15th place, 5 points clear of the bottom 3 and 3 points off the play offs. What have you made of City’s opening 12 games.
“Very up and down, which was very much expected given the club have brought in 17 new signings. The positive thing recently is that they seem to have found their mojo a little at the top end of the pitch, which was a concern at the beginning of the campaign. A new style of play has been a pleasing aspect of this season so far, though, definitely.” [@GlenWilliams12]
2) Steve Morrison was sacked just before the international break and caretaker boss Mark Hudson has guided you to 4 points from 2 tricky games against Burnley and Blackburn. Was the change needed?
“Personally, I felt it was odd-timing to make such a decision. The board allowed Morison to overhaul the squad and then gave him only 10 games to get it right. Mark Hudson is a very good coach and has done a top job so far, of that there is no doubt, but it’s still early to tell. An odd situation but one the club have to move forward from now.” [@GlenWilliams12]
3) Cardiff made 16 signings in the summer and that can often lead to a slow start as players settle into new surroundings. Do you feel like you’re starting to recognise a set starting 11 or are there still plenty of players fighting for their shirt?
“The starting XI has certainly started to settle. The defence seems nailed on now, when everyone is fit, while the midfield three is tinkered with from game to game. Callum Robinson is finally that nailed-on striker Cardiff were searching for at the beginning of the season, while Cardiff have good wing options now as well. We are just seeing signs of it all gelling together, although there is still a way to go.” [@GlenWilliams12]
4) Finally, Latics are winless at home this season and desperate to get that first 3 points at the DW. Which players should Latics fans be worried about come 3pm on Saturday afternoon?
“Like I mentioned, Callum Robinson has been a bright spark since signing, having been directly involved in four goals from his four games with the club. Callum O’Dowda has been the most consistent attacking player across the season, he has been a top signing. Centre-back Cedric Kipre has been the best outfield player as a whole, though, he will be crucial in defending City’s goal on Saturday.” [@GlenWilliams12]
There’s already been a fair amount of talk about Latics tactics in this article so I was hoping to make this section more heavily focused on what to expect from our opponents Cardiff City. However, having dug into the data behind their season its fair to say they’re a pretty simple team, no real tactical nuances to focus on and very few statistical anomalies to delve into.
Under Mark Hudson they’ve lined up with a 4 at the back in both games, a 4-4-2 once and a 4-1-4-1 the other. They’re an adaptable side who are capable of keeping the ball or sitting back, soaking up pressure and hitting opponents on the counter attack. Latics had been good at defending counter attacks this season but conceded from one on Wednesday night so the Bluebirds may well see this as their best chance of victory.
Their creativity often comes from Romaine Sawyers who’s been a great addition to their midfield. He averages 8 passes to the final third per 90 and 3 passes into the penalty area per 90 which are the highest in their squad, but strangely enough he’s yet to register an assist for Cardiff. Keeping him quiet will be important but its worth noting he’s not their only creator, a lot of work is done by their wingers too.
Interestingly no side has had more shots from outside the area than Cardiff, more than 50% of their attempts come from more than 18 yards out. Our closing down has to be better than it was on Wednesday night, we can’t afford to stand of them around the box as they have players capable of scoring from range, delivering teasing crosses or dangerous through balls. The midfield 2 especially have to be high energy and aggressive off the ball.
Now for some news that Latics fans might not enjoy hearing. They are statistically the 3rd weakest team when it comes to aerial duels in the league and Latics are the 3rd best, which leads me to believe that we’ll persist with our direct style. Jack Simpson and former Tic Cedric Kipre are the likely CB duo and Latics will probably fancy our chances against them in the air as neither have an aerial duels success above 60% this season.
If we do play a more direct style I think it’s hugely important that we mix in passages of patient build up too. Long balls are fine in certain situations but too many of them make it a predictable and preventable tactic as we’ve seen a couple of times this season. I’ve taken a look at every long ball we played on Wednesday, for my sins, and picked out 3 moments where a short pass would’ve made a lot more sense.
We’re paying the price for not having a playmaking midfielder in our side. It seems like there isn’t enough trust in our CMs to give them the ball under pressure and it results in us bypassing them with long balls. Graeme Shinnie is brave in possession and may solve this problem but it seems like our first thought is to go long whatever the situation. Its definitely a part of our game to keep an eye on as the season goes on.
As the away side Cardiff probably won’t come out too expansively and I’m sure we’ll have to be slightly more creative in attacking areas to break down their defence. Its something we didn’t do against Reading so fingers crossed lessons have been learnt and we approach this game in a better way.
This is a really big game for Latics. We’ve not suffered back to back defeats since May 2021 and we’ve not won at home since April of last season so a victory at the DW is long overdue. It’s important that we don’t try too hard to win and pile pressure on ourselves, but you’d imagine the players are desperate to get that first 3 points at home.
The way the league has been this season form is almost irrelevant at times. Latics found that out at Hull on Wednesday and will be hoping to end up on the right side of the result this Saturday. Whilst the league is still so condensed 3 points can send you flying up the table and losses can send you plummeting, which from a psychological point of view could have an effect on the players even at this early stage.
The main thing I want to see is adaptability. We know we’re never going to blow sides away but I’m convinced we can be braver than we are at times. We always work hard, now its time to start adding periods of quality to our game which will make us a really complete package. Up them Tics!