The FourFourTwo Preview: Cardiff vs West Brom
Must-win for both sides, while Peter Odemwingie faces the club he left (twice).
Raucous booing of Odemwingie aside, in terms of intrigue this may appear to be one of the weekend’s fixture fillers (though it’s run close by West Ham’s goalless draw with Sunderland and the inexplicably televised meeting between Stoke and Hull). However, West Brom’s visit to Cardiff has rather a lot riding on it.
- Palace 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Stoke 0-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Cardiff 2-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Aston Villa 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
WEST BROM FORM
- West Brom 0-2 Norwich (Prem)
- West Brom 2-3 Man City (Prem)
- Newcastle 2-1 West Brom (Prem)
- West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-2 West Brom (Prem)
Cardiff have won one of their last nine matches, and none of the last five. Albion have also won one of their last nine matches, and none of the last five.
For both sets of fans this is being chalked up on the fixture list – presuming the fixture list is on a blackboard – as three points gained, no arguments.
Simply, downwardly mobile West Brom cannot afford to draw or lose to a struggling team. And Cardiff, with their next seven away games coming against Liverpool (ack), Arsenal (argh), Manchester City (bugger), Manchester United (oof), Swansea (ooh), Tottenham (ouch) and Everton (yowser), are relying almost entirely on their home form right up until April – which means they have to beat West Brom. Neither team can compromise.
With that run of away fixtures in mind, Malky Mackay may regret travelling to Stoke a week-and-a-half ago with his most defensive line-up this season: a 0-0 at the Britannia isn’t yet the same result against Mark Hughes as it was against Tony Pulis. The initiative lost, a dire defeat to Pulis’ own Crystal Palace followed three days later, with Fraizer Campbell cutting a very lonely figure up front in both games. Only Palace (10) have scored fewer goals than Cardiff (11) this term.
West Brom are scoring far more freely – but so are their opponents. The Baggies have conceded two or more goals in each of their last five matches, including at home to relative stragglers Aston Villa and Norwich. Time to stop the rot.
With Cardiff finding goals hard to come by, it could be time for fit-again Andreas Cornelius to get his first league start. But Mackay has played down the possibility, saying the 20-year-old £7.5 million signing is “a long-term option” and not “a proven, hit-the-ground-running striker”.
If so, loaning talented young Joe Mason to Bolton Wanderers is a puzzler, considering Campbell’s need for support, Odemwingie’s form to date and Nicky Maynard’s... well, you can finish this sentence.
Andrew Taylor has declared himself fit (presumably the club’s physio has too) but Craig Bellamy is still a doubt.
West Brom are waiting on the returns of Ben Foster, Billy Jones and Zoltan Gera, but Nicolas Anelka and Scott Sinclair may be available. George Thorne is still suffering from a non-thorn-related injury.
Player to watch: Morgan Amalfitano (WBA)
Amalfitano, AKA M-ama, AKA The Premier League Footballer Most Resembling A Stick Man, could be the visitors’ most prominent threat. The Marseille loanee has shone among the Baggies’ mostly middling-to-mediocre signings and an alleged price tag of £4m for his services on a permanent basis looks like a bargain.
He hasn’t produced an assist in 8 games – partly because his team-mates can’t finish – but he has been putting in plenty of crosses, and although Cardiff are well-equipped to deal with them (Ben Turner has made more clearances than any other player in the league this season, a whopping 153), they are vulnerable at left-back.
Amalfitano could be dangerous targeting either Taylor or 18-year-old Declan John in what would be just his third league game. They'll have to watch the Frenchman very carefully, and not just his back as he speeds away.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 4-2 Cardiff (FAC, Jan 12)
- Cardiff 1-1 WBA (C’ship, Feb 10)
- WBA 0-2 Cardiff (C’ship, Dec 09)
- Cardiff 0-0 WBA (C’ship, Apr 08)
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (C’ship, Jan 08)
Two Scotsmen doing a decent job but finding themselves under a modicum of pressure. Well, perhaps more than a modicum. Two modica? A handful of modicii? Mackay has been given the board’s backing and been told there’ll be money to spend in the January transfer window (on top of the £30m+ spent last summer). Until then he must make use of a relatively large squad.
From the outside, Steve Clarke’s job looks a good 'un: eighth last season, some bad luck this year and a few impressive results, all while adapting to life without Romelu Lukaku.
Some Baggies fans are questioning his suitability. His teams look to attack but are often cumbersome in doing so, and the defence has lacked solidity. There are concerns, but a few wins over Christmas should allay fears.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- West Brom have lost none of their last seven away games against Cardiff (W2 D5 L0) – their last defeat came at Ninian Park in 1960.
- David Marshall has made more saves than any other goalkeeper in the top flight this season (61).
West Brom have won just one of their last nine Premier League games (W1 D4 L4) and lost their last three in a row.
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Look away now, Cardiffians... in the game neither team can afford to lose, the home side do. 2-1 to West Brom.