The FourFourTwo Preview: Southampton vs Cardiff
One of the last five nails in Cardiff's Premier League coffin – unless they show they're not ready to be buried quite yet.
So this is it then. The last chance saloon for Cardiff. With a six-point gap and five games remaining it's not out of the question that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side could remain in this division. Cardiff's run-in – Southampton, Stoke (h), Sunderland (a), Newcastle (a) and Chelsea (h) is also far from the impossible job.
- Man City 4-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Spurs 3-2 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 4-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Palace 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Palace (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
There are points to be picked up - particularly if they hang in there until the last day. By that time Chelsea could a) already be champions, b) be out of the race entirely and easing off ahead of the World Cup or c) have half an eye on a Champions League final.
But for us to even be having that conversation come May 11, Cardiff need to start winning. And that's not something they've really managed in 2014. In fact, they've been appalling. Just two wins since Christmas has seen the whole show come crashing down around the Bluebirds, leaving owner Vincent Tan looking perplexed in his football-shirt-over-suit-with-shirt-collar-tucked-over combo.
"We need a miracle," Solskjaer admitted last week. Worryingly, he also vaguely alluded to dressing-room factions damaging team spirit, with reports suggesting there exist two clans within the Bluebirds camp – Team Malky and Team Ole.
At this stage of the season, after a campaign riddled with fallouts between managers and owners, owners and fans, fans and other fans, a divided dressing room is the last thing Cardiff need. "For the first time I have lost a bit of sleep," admitted the usually cool, calm and collected Norwegian gaffer. Defeat this weekend against Southampton would all but seal Cardiff's fate.
Southampton are cruising, and manager Mauricio Pochettino has admitted that at this stage of the campaign he is already planning for the next one. After performing admirably at Manchester City, dominating possession and looking vibrant and fearless before their soft underbelly cost them any chance of an upset, the Saints will look to consolidate what would be an admirable eighth-place finish.
There was shock and dismay at St. Mary's this week as it was confirmed that Jay Rodriguez ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during the 4-1 defeat at Man City and will be out for around six months. With 17 goals in all competitions this season and call-ups to the last two England squads, Rodriguez looked to have a chance at grabbing a ticket to Brazil. Sadly for him that's now out of the question, leaving Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert to fight it out for the opportunity to represent the Saints at a World Cup.
Maya Yoshida (knee), Nathaniel Clyne (groin) and Kelvin Davis remain absent but Pochettino hopes to have Gaston Ramirez and Artur Boruc available, particularly as Paolo Gazzaniga looked decidedly dodgy between the sticks at the Etihad Stadium last week.
For Cardiff, Craig Noone is out for the rest of the season after taking 'a bad knock' in the 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, while Gary Medel should recover from a virus in time to feature. Fabio and Mark Hudson are doubts.
Key battle: Morgan Schneiderlin vs Gary Medel
Despite the scoreline suggesting Southampton were battered last weekend, for long spells of the game the Saints actually outperformed their obscenely wealthy opponents. Pochettino's men racked up 61% possession in the first half, zipping the ball around confidently and enterprisingly, while City struggled – until slamming in two first half stoppage-time goals to alter the game's complexion entirely.
A reflection of this came via the passing stats, where Schneiderlin completed more than double the number of passes Yaya Toure managed, and four times as many as Fernandinho in the first half, before the Brazilian was replaced. Schneiderlin also completed more ball recoveries than anyone on the field – as did his probable midfield opponent on Saturday, Medel.
Though Cardiff were battered 3-0 on their own turf, the Chilean charger was one of the few Bluebirds who could hold his head relatively high on the day as he too completed the most passes and made the most ball recoveries over the 90 minutes. His 100% successful tackle rate was also impressive, if ultimately irrelevant. The midfield battle is likely to be pivotal to the game's outcome on Saturday.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Cardiff 0-3 So’ton (Prem, Dec 13)
- So'ton 1-1 Cardiff (Ch, Jan 12)
- Cardiff 2-1 So’ton (Ch, Sep 11)
- So'ton 1-0 Cardiff (Ch, Feb 09)
- Cardiff 2-1 So’ton (Ch, Aug 08)
The pressure is mounting on Solskjaer. Just two wins from 13 league games was not part of the script when the fresh-faced Norwegian arrived in the Welsh capital with his Norwegian Cup and growing reputation in January, and if recent rumours are to be believed his position at the club is now under scrutiny. "I am confident we can pull this off," Solskjaer told supporters in a Q&A this week. "Everybody still believes we are in with a chance and we will not give up," he said, before admitting: "For the first time I have lost a bit of sleep. I’ve been up at 4am working out how to galvanise everybody."
Pochettino, meanwhile, is comfortable and loving life in eighth.
Facts and figures
- Saints have won 7 of their last 8 matches against promoted teams including all 5 this season.
- Cardiff have lost 10 of their last 13 away matches – managing just 3 draws.
- 8 of Saints' last 10 home wins have been Win/Win doubles and 8 have also been by at least 2 clear goals.
- 14 of Saints' last 17 matches have had at least 3 goals.
Southampton have been playing some fine football of late, both against Newcastle where they destroyed them 4-0, and at the Etihad. They should have too much for Cardiff here, even without Rodriguez. 3-1.