Cardiff City (A) Match Preview

A week is a very long time in football. 7 days ago I was writing my preview for the FA Cup tie with Luton, frustrated at the back to back to back 4-1 defeats and with no real confidence for the future. The transfer window was underway and the only player we’d been linked with was Connor Wickham. Now, all that has changed!

The FA Cup game was a positive. We held a Luton side that have been in great form to a 1-1 draw and probably should’ve come away with a win. We’ve also signed 2 new players and look set to announce a few more in the coming days, as well as being well in the mix for signing former star Joe Gelhardt on loan from Leeds United. The mood around Latics is better now.

Opponents Cardiff City haven’t strengthened in the window because they haven’t been allowed to! They have a transfer ban placed upon them due to an ongoing dispute regarding unpaid transfer fees so we know pretty much exactly what to expect from their squad. They’re off the back of a battling FA Cup tie with Leeds in which they conceded a 95th minute equaliser, but its a game they’ll have taken confidence from I’m sure.

Latics Team News

The Luton game may turn out to be a pivotal point in Latics’ season – the first game that Kolo Touré played a back 5. After conceding 15 goals in his first 5 games in charge he made the decision to play a more defensive system and it seemed to work really well. Other than the goal they scored, which came from another unforced error by a Latics defender, we limited them well and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us play it more often.

There’ll definitely be one change to the team. Rarmani Edmonds-Green has been sent back to Huddersfield after a pretty uninspiring loan move so he’ll need replacing straight away. Steven Caulker has been brought in which I’m really happy with but this game might’ve come too soon for him, which is a shame as he’s a former Cardiff player.

Therefore the logical option to replace REG is Charlie Hughes who returned from injury to feature off the bench in the cup. I really like the look of him and in that wide CB role he’s able to utilise his on the ball abilities as well as his solid defensive attributes. With Whatmough in the middle and probably Tilt on the left that’s a solid enough back 3.

Nyambe and McClean were the wing backs and I’d pick them there again. They’re comfortably our two best options in those positions and provide good balance in attack and defence. McClean’s delivery the other day was up there with his best this season and we scored both goals (the allowed and disallowed one) from his crosses.

The midfield will be an interesting one. Jordan Cousins and Tom Naylor looked really solid together and controlled the midfield well whilst providing excellent security for our back line. They need to be partnered with a creative midfielder so I’d like to see Thelo Aasgaard or Will Keane replace Max Power to act as the link between midfield and attack.

Callum Lang and Ashley Fletcher were the front 2 against Luton and combined well at times, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them paired up top again. That gives us a nice balance of speed and strength but you’d be right to think there’s not much firepower up there and its part of the reason why we desperately need a new striker this January. Josh Magennis isn’t going to be the answer, lets be honest.

New signings Steven Caulker and Miguel Azeez could both be involved but it feels unlikely either will be thrown in from the start. They add different qualities to our squad which is nice and fingers crossed there will be more new signings at the club in the near future. Ivorian midfielder Christ Tiehi joined the club yesterday and won’t be available for selection this afternoon.

Equally, there a few players that we could do with shipping out and it’ll be interesting to see who’s in the squad and who’s missing.

An Opposition View

1) I think it’s fair to Cardiff’s season has been a mixed one, with a few stand out performances and a few performances to forget. What have you made of your season so far?

“Not a lot! That said, I think I’m a bit more positive than many fans. I like that we’re trying to play more football rather than just looking for set piece opportunities. We’ve got a new squad really and I’d say that the summer recruitment was good apart from in forward positions.” [@MauveAnd]

2) One of those stand outs came in the reverse fixture at the DW, a 3-1 victory for your side. Would you say that’s your best performance of the season so far?

“No, funnily enough, we’ve reserved our best displays for the north east – we played well in winning at Middlesbrough and Sunderland, but the Wigan win is probably third best.” [@MauveAnd]

3) You’re coming into this game off the back of a battling 2-2 draw against Premier League side Leeds United in the FA Cup. Does your performance in that game make you more confident going into this relegation ‘6 pointer’?

“I think it will help because we scored twice after looking incapable of finding the net in our preceding three league games. However, I think there’ll be a lot of changes from Sunday’s game and we’ll have a lot of players who are used to only drawing and losing over the last two months.” [@MauveAnd]

4) Who do you think Cardiff fans are pinning their hopes on for this game? Are there any players you think could be match winners against Latics?

“Callum Robinson is our most consistent attacking player, but if I was asked to name candidates for our player of the season so far, I’d say your former player Cedric Kipre, Ryan Wintle and Callum O’Dowda. However, young Isaak Davies was excellent for forty five minutes against Leeds and having been injured for most of this season is probably not carrying as much emotional baggage as the rest of the squad.” [@MauveAnd]

Tactical Talk

With this being a must not lose game away from home, and the relative success we had using it against Luton, I’m going to assume that we use a 5 at the back system this afternoon too. I think that whilst we’re still getting acclimatised to Kolo’s way of playing its best that we make ourselves as solid defensively as possible, especially away from home.

We didn’t see much of the ball against Luton, just 31% possession which is our lowest under Kolo so far. I think this was mainly down to the fact that Luton – under Rob Edwards – are a side that are keen to keep the ball and we sort of let them do it. The main thing is they hardly threatened our goals and registered just 0.78 xG compared to our 2.24.

Cardiff have lined up with a back 4 in every home game this season so I’m fully expecting the same to be the case this afternoon. More than likely it’ll be a 4-4-2 with Kion Etete and Callum Robinson leading the line. They can prove a handful when on their game and offer a nice mix of attributes, kind of similar to Lang and Fletcher.

Stopping the service into them will be vital. A good deal of their build up play is focused in wide areas so playing the back 5 should help us limit these spaces out wide and prevent crosses into the box. It’ll be important for our wide CBs to move out into wide areas and limit the space behind our wing backs, whilst also making sure there are enough bodies in the box to deal with any deliveries.

We played a back 5 against them at home and that didn’t go well, but they did too so we couldn’t really make use of the space going forward. Against them in a back 4 I’d fancy our chances simply because they’re going to have to come and try and beat us more than they did at the DW. As long as we keep it tight early on I think we’ve a real chance.

The problem in the reverse fixture was we were too laboured in possession. There was so much sideways and backwards passing that made us so easy to defend against and I’d like to think the new manager will have changed that somewhat. Having more players picking up space between the lines, turning their defenders and getting us up the pitch is what’s required.

Hopefully, the full week on the training ground has helped us prepare well for this game without any interruptions. I think this is one of the more winnable games we have left and if Kolo gets his tactics right we’ll be fine. I think a back 5, two workhorse midfielders, a creative link and two strikers who are only there to score goals.

Final Thoughts

I hate the fact I’m excited for this game because that never ends well as a Wigan fan! This week seems to have put the life back into the whole club and it was massively needed after a grim Christmas period. The new signings, the players rumoured to join and the positive performance at Luton have made us all #BELIEVE again!

Cardiff will be a tough opponent and this is just as big a game for them as it is us. They’re in real danger of being dragged into the relegation zone and they don’t have the ability to strengthen their squad, so the need to pick up points is huge right now. Only Preston have scored fewer goals at home though , so they won’t be brimming with confidence.

A win would be huge. Indescribably huge. It feels like once that first win comes it’ll be the old London bus tale, more will come back to back. Kicking off a good run of form now would be huge and I think we’re finally well placed to do so. Up the Tics!!!

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