Nickname: The Bluebirds
Home Ground: Cardiff City Stadium
Trophy Room: 1 FA Cup Title
Manager: Neil Warnock
Cardiff City has won the promotion to the English Premier League by finishing 2nd overall in the English Championship. This season will mark the return of the Bluebirds to top-flight soccer, which they have not been a part of since the 2013/14 season.
Cardiff City will be the only non-English club to compete in the 2018/19 English Premier League season since Swansea City have been relegated to the English Championship. The Welsh club has a great opportunity to make a claim at regular Premier League status.
I have prepared an overview of main Cardiff City storylines and a short preview for the upcoming English Premier League season.
Previous Season Summary
Finish: Newly Promoted (2nd in the English Championship)
Cardiff City enjoyed a stellar campaign in the English Championship last year and secured a promotion to the English Premier League by finishing 2nd overall. Even though the Bluebirds were not among the hot favorites for the promotion before the season, they have managed put together a string of strong results that bolstered their promotion odds.
Cardiff City came out firing on all cylinders in the English Championship by winning their five opening games in a row for the first time in the club’s 107-year-long history. The Bluebirds shot up the league standings landing on the top of the league table.
Cardiff City went on two more impressive runs during the 2017/18 English Championship season. In November and December, The Bluebirds managed to win another 4 straight games, as well as 5 out of the last 6 games. Yet, what came later in the season was even more impressive.
Cardiff City played finished off their English Championship campaign in mixed for but they still managed to finish 2nd overall in the standings. Wolverhampton Wanderers ended up winning the English Championship title with 9 points to spare.
The success of the Bluebirds can be attributed to their league-leading defense, which allowed only 39 goals in 46 games (tied 1st overall with Wolverhampton Wanderers). At the same time, Cardiff City was tied for 3rd overall goal difference with Aston Villa, boasting a +30 goal difference in 46 games.
The Bluebirds were offensively an efficient team, even though they couldn’t be considered elite by the English Championship standards. Cardiff City didn’t have a dominant scorer last season, but rather have divided the scoring responsibility across a larger number of players.
7 Cardiff City players have scored 5 or more goals during the previous season. The leader was the left winger Junior Holt with 11 goals, followed by the right back Callum Peterson with 10 goals and striker Kenneth Zohore with 9 goals.
Winning promotion to the English Premier League was certainly a surprise for the soccer fans across England, yet Cardiff City has shown remarkable resiliency and effort to make this dream a reality. Now they have a perfect chance to show that their promotion was not a fluke and shine on a bigger stage in the English Premier League.
Key Additions and Departures
As is usually the case with newly promoted teams, Cardiff City was quite active in the offseason trying to bolster the squad which is about to enter the most competitive club competition in the European soccer. So far, The Bluebirds have spent more than GBP 30 million on reinforcements for the upcoming English Premier League season.
Their two main additions were offensive players that will look to improve Cardiff City offense, in order to cope with the improved defenses in the English Premier League.
- 23-year-old left winger Josh Murphy was signed from Norwich city for a GBP 11.4 million fee.
- 25-year-old attacking midfielder Bobby Reid from Bristol city for a GBP 11.38 million fee.
These two signings are expected to provide more creativity and flexibility up front since there were times when Cardiff City struggled to score last season. Both players are young and on the rise. They could help the club on the field, or eventually financially if they draw transfer interest from the bigger clubs
The Bluebirds have also signed left-back Greg Cunningham from Preston North End for a GBP 4 million fee, as well as the goalkeeper Alex Smithies from QPR for the same GBP 4 million fee. Both are expected to provide depth and competition in the defense and between the posts.
Still, the overall feeling regarding Cardiff City’s moves is underwhelming. None of the additions to the squad seem like difference makers that will help them stay competitive in the English Premier League. Cardiff has already gone through a similar experience before when their core was not good enough to compete in the top-flight competition and there were no systems in place to help them.
There is still time, until September 1st transfer market deadline, for the teams to add additional players to their rosters. It will be interesting to see whether Cardiff City will be active during this period. The prime candidate for the transfer or another loan spell would be Liverpool’s midfielder Marko Grujic, who spent the better part of last season on loan at Cardiff City.
The Serbian central midfielder has been instrumental in the Bluebirds success last year and they would love to see him in the squad again. The difficulty lies in the fact that Liverpool is looking to cash in on the youngster and they have set a GPB 22 million asking price on him and some Italian teams are already showing interest in him. That is a price that Cardiff City might be reluctant to pay for his services.
Style of Play
Neil Warnock is an experienced manager, managing more than 15 clubs across the variety of leagues in England. He is perhaps the most known for his 8-year spell at Sheffield United, during which he revitalized the club and helped get them back into the English Premier League.
In October 2016, Warnock took over the Cardiff City side which, at the moment, was 12th in the English Championship. He transformed the struggling club and within two seasons he has won the promotion to the English Premier League.
Warnock is a fan of a direct passing and attacking style, rather than relying on dominating the possession to generate goal chances. During his tenure at the club, Cardiff City has used a variety of formations during their play, but the most common ones were:
Both of the formations preferred a 4-back defensive line, something that goes a bit against the grain of many clubs nowadays switching to a 3-back defensive line. Cardiff City relies on a tall and powerful 4-back line to close off any avenues towards their goal.
Cardiff’s defensive line can seem disorganized at times since they employ a lot of overlapping and covering among the defenders. It is not unusual for central backs like Sol Bamba to jump out of formation and press in the midfield, while the left or right back cover his spot in the formation and wings fill in on the sides.
This makes Cardiff’s defense difficult to read and puts their best defenders in the spot to make plays and gain possession in the more advanced areas of the pitch. This, in turn, helps facilitate counter attacks that can catch the opposing defense off the guard more often.
Once in the possession of the ball, Cardiff City tries to utilize the pace of their wings and the strength of their forwards in the direct passing scheme. The goal is to get the ball into the final third of the pitch as quickly as possible, allowing the Bluebirds’ forwards and wingers to create goal scoring chances.
It would be wrong to assume that Cardiff City is purely a long-ball passing team though. Once they get the ball into the advanced areas of the pitch, Cardiff City is keen on keeping possession, playing attractive football and creating goal scoring chances using the short passing game.
The Bluebirds are also focused on set pieces and crosses into the penalty box, as they try to maximize their height and power advantage over the smaller teams. They have several aerial threats that can score goals or assist with headers.
In general, Cardiff City does not play a complex attacking scheme, but rather focus on getting the ball out of their own half as quickly as possible and putting their pacey wings and strong forwards into position to make plays in front of the opponent’s goal.
2018/19 Season Expectations and Predictions
It is obvious that the primary goal and the expectations of the Cardiff City faithful are to avoid relegation in the upcoming English Premier League season. A task that is easier said than achieved in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Especially, if we take into account that Cardiff’s last Premier League stint only lasted a single season.
They are already entering the English Premier League at a disadvantage to the well-established teams which have bigger budgets and more experience in fielding competitive squads in the top-flight soccer. In addition to that, their fellow newly-promoted teams such as Fulham and Wolverhampton have been far more active in the transfer market and have been more ambitious in their spending.
Defensively Cardiff City should be fine in the English Premier League as they do employ a modern and effective defensive scheme that is matched by the talent and physicality they have on the roster. On the other hand, the offense might be another story altogether.
Direct-passing teams haven’t really fared that well in the English Premier League recently. The advantage those teams have held in the lower-division soccer tends to disappear as they enter top-flight. The defenses are quicker and more powerful and the offenses are much better at keeping possession, thus minimizing counter attack opportunities.
I find it hard to believe that Neil Warnock is willing to change his stripes at this stage of the career and employ a different offensive philosophy to his team. If we couple that with the fact that Cardiff City have not made a huge splash in the transfer market, the conclusion is that their squad is quite unremarkable for the English Premier League standards.
Thus, I expect them to be in the tightly contested relegation battle all season and one of the main favorites to return to the English Championship. Of course, a lot can change during the course of the season. A good run of form or the addition of several talented players to the roster might tip the scales in favor of Cardiff City avoiding relegation.
As it stands, the Bluebirds are the team that I am least excited about this season. I am afraid that they will be outmatched and overwhelmed by the Premier League soccer.