Michael Cox analyses exactly where the Bluebirds and their new boss are coming unstuck ahead of arguably the most important game of their season...
In Sir Alex Ferguson’s recent autobiography, he dedicates a brief section to discussing his former players who have become Premier League managers.
The likes of Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and Paul Ince have all faced Ferguson as an opposition coach, with varying levels of success.
Famously, they often rang up Ferguson asking for advice, and Ferguson says he told his ex-players to ‘pick an owner as much as a club’ when they moved into coaching, believing in the modern age of high-profile chairmen and big money expenditure on players, the evolution of a club depends upon its benefactor.
It’s difficult to believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the latest ex-United player to become a manager, heeded this advice when agreeing to take charge of Vincent Tan’s Cardiff. Tan is clearly a power-crazed, slightly bonkers owner, and it’s hard to imagine Cardiff will continue on an upward trajectory under his leadership.
Nevertheless, Tan can’t take the blame for Cardiff’s dreadful form under their new manager. The statistics from Solskjaer’s tenure make for sorry reading – from eight games, Cardiff have won one and drawn one, scoring in only two matches. This week’s home match with Fulham is the ultimate six-pointer.
Cardiff have a plethora of problems. Here, based upon their last three Premier League matches (zero goals, one point) is a look at five of their current issues:
1) Poor finishing
This is unquestionably Cardiff’s main problem. They’re not an overly creative side, certainly – but when they do create chances, they don’t finish them.
The recent 4-0 home defeat to Hull was particularly shocking, because Cardiff actually attempted twice as many shots as Steve Bruce’s side, many of them from decent positions, too. It takes some effort to lose by four goals when you’ve created better chances than your opponents, but the reality is that Cardiff lack a goalscorer.
Kenwyne Jones was supposed to solve this problem, but he’s managed just one goal from 11 shots in five appearances, while Fraizer Campbell simply isn’t a consistent enough threat. Others need to chip in, but Cardiff’s main problem is the lack of a clinical striker.
2) Poor distribution from centre-back
Last weekend’s defeat to Tottenham highlighted the limitations of both centre-backs with the ball at their feet. Steven Caulker and Ben Turner are not particularly cumbersome defenders, but either because of natural deficiencies or managerial instructions, they repeatedly hit long, aimless passes which Spurs coped with easily. A worrying number of their completed balls were simply backpasses, too.
This is particularly frustrating when Cardiff play with Gary Medel as their holding midfielder. Although more renowned as a scrappy, tough-tackling defensive player, he’s impressed with his distribution and is happy moving deep to collect possession. There’s no excuse for conceding possession so cheaply from the back.
3) Not taking set-piece chances
In the first half of the campaign, Cardiff were very efficient from from set-pieces. In their shock 3-2 victory over Manchester City on the opening weekend, for example, they scored two headers from corners. Indeed, they still boast the joint-seventh most goals from set-piece situations this season, which is an interesting record considering they’ve scored the joint-second fewest goals from open play – they clearly depend upon dead balls.
Yet in recent weeks they simply haven’t been taking these chances. The match against Hull summed it up – Magnus Wolff Eikrem kept swinging in dangerous deliveries from both sides, but they were never met with a decisive finish. Compared to the win over City, it’s a crucial difference – and it’s been a familiar pattern, with Caulker nodding onto the bar from barely four yards in last week’s defeat to Spurs.
4) Not being efficient enough on the ball
Cardiff often get into decent situations and cause opposition problems, but simply aren’t ruthless enough in their play. A good example of this was Craig Noone’s performance against Aston Villa. Cardiff have based their play down the right under Solskjaer, and right-winger Noone was heavily involved against Villa. He kept dribbling past opponents, who were forced to constantly foul him to stop his runs. He was a real danger.
Yet what did he produce in the final third? Very little. He didn’t create any chances, and none of his shots forced a save from Brad Guzan. That, in a nutshell, is why Cardiff look so hopeless at the moment.
5) Too nice?
It might sound silly for a side featuring both Craig Bellamy and Gary Medel, but there’s a danger that Cardiff are simply too nice. They’ve made fewer tackles than any other side in the Premier League by a considerable margin, 40, and also commit the fewest fouls in the division. Sometimes, it feels like Cardiff are happy to sit back and watch the opposition play.
The defeat to Hull and the goalless draw against Villa summed it up – Cardiff committed just nine fouls across the two games. Sometimes, you have to be nasty to survive in the Premier League’s relegation dogfight.