What needs to be done to end Cardiff’s winless campaign?

It’s a long season in the Premier League. With 7 matches played, there are still 31 left (a total of 93 points to play for). That seems to look pretty positive on paper, but it’s becoming very difficult to see where the points are going to come from.

Last season, Southampton needed just 36 points to achieve 17th place. The 2016/17 season saw Watford finish 17th with 40 points – but 18th placed Hull only managed 34.

It would be fairly safe to say 38 points would win the club survival – 36 more for Cardiff after two draws with Newcastle (H) and Huddersfield (A).

Cardiff’s next six fixtures look like this:

Tottenham (A) – 4th
Fulham (H) – 17th
Liverpool (A) – 2nd
Leicester (H) – 7th
Brighton (H) – 15th
Everton (A) – 11th

All three away matches are very tough and it would be a bonus if any points were picked up in those. Cardiff’s home form has to change drastically and the games against Fulham, Leicester and Brighton already look like “must not lose”, if not, “must win” fixtures.

What went wrong against Burnley?

It was a very poor result on Sunday, there is no getting away from it. Brighton (15th), Southampton (16th), Fulham (17th), Newcastle (18th) and Huddersfield (20th) all lost on the weekend and it was a golden opportunity to get out of the relegation zone.

A mixture of poor defending and a lack of creativity in the final third led to another loss. The thing that was most disappointing was the woeful defensive mistakes for both goals conceded.

First goal:

I’m totally baffled as to why Sean Morrison is taking long throws in every single area of the pitch, including Cardiff’s own half, and this is what ultimately led to conceding the first goal.

Morrison takes a throw deep into the Cardiff half and it is thrown straight to a Burnley player who boots it back towards the 18-yard box. This leaves the defensive line all over the place and Cunningham is forced to clear it out for a Burnley throw in the attacking third.

 

Circled are the four defenders. In the second image, Manga is too far up the pitch to be in shot. Morrison is out of position because he was just taking the throw. Cunningham questions Etheridge on why he didn’t come out of his box, but there’s no way he could have sprinted 25 yards in 2 or 3 seconds.

 

6ft Cunningham is then up against 5ft10 Gudmundsson and the shorter player gets a full head height above the Cardiff defender. Etheridge shouldn’t have been beaten at his near post.

Second goal:

Just after a brilliant first-time finish from Josh Murphy, who was the best player on the park for Cardiff, sloppy defending cost the game yet again.

 

A simple ball over the top for Gudmundsson to chase. Morrison and Bamba are far too slow to react and Vokes connects to the cross to put Burnley 2-1 in front. Cunningham should be challenging for the ball but doesn’t make any contact again.

What needs to change?

  • Long throws can be an asset for Cardiff, but taking them in every area of the pitch is ludicrous. Burnley clearly worked on this as they knew Morrison wouldn’t be in his central position every time; a big gap in the Cardiff defence would be exploited. Keep the long throws for attacking positions only.
  • Harry Arter is comfortably the best midfield option available and he needs someone alongside him to do the same job i.e. ball winning and distributing. He was doing far too much of this on his own against Burnley and would be helped by a near-fit Aron Gunnarsson.
  • Zohore is clearly not settled this season and can’t be relied upon to start matches. Danny Ward is a far better choice to lead the line and showed his worth against Arsenal and Chelsea.
  • Cunningham was poor against a fairly average Burnley side, it would be preferred that Joe Bennett was reintroduced.
  • Neither Bamba or Morrison have looked solid at centre back this season and that has become a massive worry after doing so well in the promotion season. It might be time to give Richards a run in on the right side so Manga can come in to play alongside Morrison.
  • Murphy needs to start every game when he is match fit. He is by far the best attacking option at hand and looked much brighter than Hoilett and Mendez-Laing have done this season. It might be an option to bring Bobby Reid back into the side and play him on the other flank.

What is the best formation?

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I think that could be the best team that can be put out for now, but it’s very hard to tell as performances have been mostly poor.

What I like about this is Camarasa and Reid can swap positions when necessary, but three are still kept in midfield. Richards is far better on the ball than Bamba and Manga is safer on the ball in his more natural central position. Murphy is a dangerous attacking option and Ward has shown in recent times that he is the best option to play as a no.9.

Hopefully, Neil Warnock has realised playing route one for 90 minutes does more damage for this team than good.

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Read more:
• Three Welsh players net their first club goals this season
• Wales Watch: Harry Wilson shows his quality in the League Cup 
• Wales Watch: Ramsey and Wilson hit form 

Tactical predictions for Wales v Rep. of Ireland

International football is back this week, in the new form of the Nations League. If you are unaware of what the Nations League is, feel free to read this explanation article I posted last month. In one simple sentence – they are competitive games and not friendlies.

Continue reading “Tactical predictions for Wales v Rep. of Ireland”

Three ways Cardiff could line up v Arsenal

With Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing likely to miss next weekend’s home clash with Arsenal, it means that Josh Murphy is the only first choice winger available. Cardiff still haven’t scored a goal in 270 minutes of football this season – a slight worry that the squad will be mulling over. However, Arsenal’s defence can be vulnerable (as was witnessed v Chelsea) and this could be the best opportunity in September to win 3 points.

Option 1: the same 4-3-3 system

  • Gives Kadeem Harris his first chance at making a mark this season and provides a great opportunity for him to take the place of NML/Hoilett.
  • Cardiff have kept two clean sheets in the first three Premier League games with this formation.
  • The back four will remain unchanged.
  • Gives the players another go at playing the same way against an Arsenal defence that has conceded six goals already this campaign.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 15.07.47

Option 2: 3-4-3 system with wing-backs and two no.10’s

  • Shifts Manga from right back into his natural central position and Jazz Richards comes in to play the right wing-back role, in which he has excelled in for Wales. Bennett switches to a more attacking full back on the left.
  • Gives Richards to get his long-awaited chance to play in the Premier League. As well as the job of marking Iwobi, he will be looking to burst forward to attack Monreal, who has looked exposed in games this year.
  • Harry Arter would play as a deep-lying midfielder and Joe Ralls would occupy more of a box-to-box role.
  • Gives a chance for Reid to play in his natural no.10 position, along side Josh Murphy, who would have the freedom to switch between playing centrally and drifting out wide on either flank in counter attacks.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 15.07.28

Option 3: a flat 4-4-1-1 formation, safe system to nullify Arsenal

  • Switches Murphy from the left to the right, to make room for Joe Bennett to play on the left wing and Greg Cunningham to make his Cardiff debut at left back.
  • Could also play this system with Harris on the right and Murphy keeping his place on the left.
  • Has Reid in a no.10 position behind Zohore. Danny Ward or Gary Madine could also play in place of the striker.
  • Could be very difficult for Arsenal to break down, with 9-10 players behind the ball every time Arsenal are in possession.

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Regardless of the formation Warnock decides to opt for, it is highly important that Cardiff do not lose this home game going into the international break. This is probably the best time to play Arsenal; Emery is still getting to know his squad and Ozil is currently being left out of the team because of an alleged “training ground row”. Aubameyang hasn’t hit form and Ramsey hasn’t got to his usual level either, only playing one game this season for 90 minutes. They have conceded six goals in two games, a weakness that Cardiff desperately need to exploit.

With an apparent upset Arsenal dressing room that is massively lacking togetherness, this is a golden opportunity to beat The Gunners at home and win the first 3 points of the season.

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How Wales could line up against Ireland & Denmark next month

Assuming all of our players are passed fit by the beginning of September, including Chris Gunter and Aaron Ramsey who are both currently sidelined with minor injuries, Ryan Giggs will have a plethora of options available to him for his first competitive game as Wales manager. Certainly more options than most Wales managers have had for 15+ years.

The past 12 months has seen a number of players burst onto the scene for Wales. Ben Woodburn’s debut against Austria last September was arguably one of the biggest impacts a young player has had in recent times. His performance against Moldova a few days later was also something to treasure, a burst of pace down the left wing to whip in a cross for Hal Robson-Kanu to finish for a vital win 2-0 away from home. Hard to believe at the time he was only 17 years old, outshining his star-player counterparts Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey on both nights.

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The trio of Woodburn, Brooks and Ampadu coming on against France in November 2017 was a very exciting moment for Welsh fans; a glimpse into what the future could hold following 3 very assuring performances against a country that would go on to win the World Cup just 8 months later.

Slipping slightly under the radar, a number of players made their debuts against Panama during the same month – Lee Evans, Tom Lockyer, Marley Watkins and Ryan Hedges. Whilst Ryan Giggs has given 5 players their first caps in his first 3 games including Chris Mepham, Connor Roberts, Billy Bodin, Matthew Smith and George Thomas. He has also re-introduced Harry Wilson and Declan John to the setup, both performing closer to the levels everyone has wished to see for some years during the China Cup in March.

However, Giggs hasn’t yet called up the following players (either to injury, being out of favour or “passport issues” in Ward’s case): Ethan Ampadu, Jonny Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu, Danny Ward, Neil Taylor and Emyr Huws.
He will have also been given headaches on whether to select Gwion Edwards, who has had the perfect start for Ipswich or Tyler Roberts, who has been given the no.11 shirt at Leeds and will no doubt feature before September.

As it stands, the following players have the best chance of being called up for the first set of Nations League matches:

Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey, Danny Ward, Chris Maxwell
Defenders: Ben Davies, James Chester, Ashley Williams, Chris Mepham, Chris Gunter, Neil Taylor, Connor Roberts
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Andy King, Joe Ledley, Lee Evans, Ethan Ampadu, David Brooks, Harry Wilson, Gwion Edwards
Forwards: Gareth Bale, Sam Vokes, Tom Lawrence, Ben Woodburn

Probable standby players: Declan John, Hal Robson-Kanu, Tom Bradshaw, Jazz Richards, Tom Lockyer, Marley Watkins, Adam Davies, Tyler Roberts (will likely be picked for the u21’s v Liechtenstein & Portugal). 

Giggs has more attacking players available to him than Chris Coleman ever did when he was manager. Here are 3 formations that he could use to get the most out of the players at hand.

1. Most commonly used system over the past 4 years, 3-4-3

  • Players are comfortable and very familiar with the system.
  • Offers the target man option with Vokes so Bale and Ramsey can be brought into play together.
  • Able to get the most out of Ben Davies in a wing back role as he has done successfully for Spurs in recent times.
  • Experience all over the pitch, aside from Mepham who will be helped by a team that has compiled 614 caps between them, with an average age of 29.

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2. More experimental with a high press, 4-1-2-3

  • Can be very difficult for the opposition to track interchanging wingers.
  • Has Bale playing as a no.9 so his energy can be saved for attacks on the counter. Will also make use of his height and heading ability on crosses from either side.
  • Bale can also be implemented as a false 9, as he has done for Madrid in pre-season.
  • Versatile system with a flexibility to defend in a 5-4-1, with Ampadu dropping into the centre of the defensive line and the wingers creating a flat four with Allen and Ramsey.
  • Extremely dangerous on the counter with Ramsey bursting from midfield to link with the front three. Ampadu and Allen’s ability to pick a pass from anywhere will cause havoc for the opposition.

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 23.11.07

3. Attack minded with pace, 4-2-3-1

  • Makes use of the speed we have available in the squad with Wilson, Lawrence and Brooks all in the same team. Woodburn or Edwards could also slot in comfortably on either wing.
  • Again, featuring Bale as a no.9 so his energy can be mostly used in attack.
  • Has Lawrence in a no.10 role, which he has excelled in for Wales previously.
  • This system is probably best used if we are needing a goal with 20-30 minutes remaining.

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 23.11.39

The main issue against the Republic of Ireland in both games last year was scoring goals. You don’t have to be a football expert to work that one out.

Defensively it looked pretty comfortable throughout, even when Taylor got sent off in Dublin, the backline still looked okay. A sloppy bit of play and a lack of concentration led to conceding in Cardiff, so for me, formation number 2 looks to be the strongest option v Ireland. Offering a set of very attack-minded players on the break with pace (4-1-2-3/4-2-1-3), as well as the ability to slip into a defensive shape (5-4-1) that can transition into a counter quickly and effectively.

With the game being at home and Ryan Giggs’ first competitive match, he would love to get off to a winning start. I don’t think we should overestimate what Ireland have at their disposal, I believe that was the mistake last time and ultimately led to two games of stalemate. This doesn’t take away the fact that they are a very competitive, street-wise team with an excellent manager in Martin O’Neill. Wales will see the majority of possession in Cardiff and hopefully with some youth in the side, we are able to score a goal or two.

Against Denmark, Giggs will presumably employ a less attacking formation. I’d imagine we’d revert to 5 at the back (being his first competitive away game, the fact they hammered 5 goals into the Irish last year, as well as reaching the last 16 of the World Cup in Russia). Denmark also have a world class player in Eriksen, which Ireland do not have. Give him a yard or two and he will, nine times out of ten, punish the opposition.

There will be a more in depth tactical post on the upcoming Republic of Ireland and Denmark games closer to September.

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