The FourFourTwo Preview: Cardiff vs Aston Villa
Another game in which both sets of fans will demand a win while fearing a loss.
So much for the new-boss bounce. Two away FA Cup victories have helped hide Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's unpromising start of four losses in five league games; although that includes defeats at both of the Manchester giants, the Bluebirds hardly hit the high notes against West Ham and Norwich – the sort of home games that drop-dodgers have to win. Bottom of the last-eight form table and second-bottom of the only table that matters, Solskjaer's team have to start collecting points soon.
- Swansea 3-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 2-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Man United 2–0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Bolton 0–1 Cardiff (FAC)
- Man City 4–2 Cardiff (Prem)
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4–3 WBA (Prem)
- Liverpool 2–2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1–2 Arsenal (Prem)
Against the Hammers, Cardiff dominated (63% possession, more than twice as many passes) but were sucker-punched by wily old Sam Allardyce's visitors. Against the Canaries, they had minority possession and conceded 27 shots (to 13) but emerged victorious. Which is the real Cardiff? Their fans will fervently hope it's not the side who, in the big six-point South Wales derby at Swansea, collapsed like a cheap tent.
Aston Villa fans know all about disappointing home defeats to West Ham, having suffered their own at the weekend; no Premier League team has suffered more home losses than Villa's eight. Away days suit Villa's minimal-possession counter-attacking style – on the road they're a more solid W4 D4 L4, and they haven't got the disgruntled home support wondering where it all went wrong.
Something similar may soon become Solskjaer's problem: in the last home game, the Cardiff fans started to turn nasty. To Craig Bellamy's disgust, they singled out Peter Whittingham before his early substitution – but their antagonism could have any number of targets, especially after a derby defeat. Solskjaer has already received angry notices for dropping Craig Noone and Jordon Mutch at Swansea, and didn't get a warm welcome when greeting the travelling fans.
For their part, Villa may hope the home fans and manager demand their players hassle high up the pitch, because Paul Lambert so often relies on the long ball out of defence toward Christian Benteke and/or Grant Holt, supported by scampering midfielders running in behind.
If Cardiff's combative back-line stays quite deep, dealing with the front-men and trusting the midfield to track runners, Solskjaer can expect his men to have most of the ball. But that's no guarantee of success.
Villa's loanee left-back Ryan Bertrand is a doubt, having enlivened the West Ham game by whacking his ribs into the post with a resounding clang; Joe Bennett or Antonio Luna could step in. Having impressed as a sub against the Hammers, Marc Albrighton may get a recall and a new contract. Skipper Ron Vlaar's dodgy hamstring will be tested as late as possible, although probably not after 6.45pm.
Speaking of hamstrung captains, Mark Hudson won't be back for Solskjaer, whose problems are more with form than fitness. Among the changes he might make are subs-at-Swansea Noone and Mutch, plus signings Juan Cala, Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Mats Moller Daehli: “You may see one or two Norwegians involved," says Solskjaer. "Juan is also in my thoughts, he’s been positive and bright." Something's got to change.
Player to watch: Juan Cala (Cardiff)
Cardiff fans hoping to have their own version of Swansea's canny Spanish centre-back signing Chico Flores might do well to temper their expectations. Although he gained experience on loan at AEK Athens a couple of seasons ago, 24-year-old Cala may be a touch callow for the physicality of the Premier League.
The Sevilla academy graduate, who switched to Cardiff on a free last month after cancelling his contract, had a lively last game at Villarreal, heading the opener from Ivan Rakitic's free-kick before getting sent off late on. But he seemed startlingly uninvolved for 86 minutes before his expulsion – and in the previous week's home loss to Athletic Bilbao he could barely put a foot right, being especially wayward with passes in the opposition half.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 2-0 Cardiff (Prem, Nov 13)
- Villa 1-0 Cardiff (LC, Sep 09)
- Villa 2-0 Cardiff (Div 2, Apr 75)
- Cardiff 3-1 Villa (Div 2, Dec 74)
- Cardiff 0-1 Villa (Div 2, Feb 74)
Solskjaer will have unhappy memories of Man United's 1997 Champions League semi-final against Lambert's Borussia Dortmund: while the Scottish midfielder excelled, the Norwegian striker was subbed home and away as the Germans won each leg 1-0.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Cardiff have lost 7 of their last 9 matches and have conceded first in 8 of their 12 home games this season – the most in the league.
- Cardiff’s 14 games against bottom-half teams this season have averaged just 1.85 GPG.
- Aston Villa have conceded exactly twice in 6 of their last 7 away matches.
- 9 of Villa’s 14 games against bottom-half teams this season have had fewer than 3 goals.
- No team has won more of their last 20 away games than Aston Villa (9).
Best Bet: Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.80
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
An early Cardiff goal could lighten the mood considerably - but if Villa can stifle the hosts it could be a long evening indeed. Feels like a 1-1 that leaves nobody particularly happy.