Ah, another game, another loss for Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City. This time, it was a game we could’ve won. A game that many were labeling a must-win, despite it only being the end of September.
It’s important to remember that Burnley are a side that finished 7th last season and qualified for Europe. They’re no pushovers and there was no suggestion that this was a game Cardiff could easily win.
There was, however, a feeling that it was a game Cardiff could get something out of. After playing three of the league’s best sides in the last month, Cardiff’s season started here, or so it felt.
After the match, Neil Warnock commented that he ‘hasn’t got a clue’ how to stop Cardiff looking so vulnerable at the back. Here’s hoping our analysis can help him out…
Neil Warnock made a few unexpected changes for this match, with Sol Bamba, Callum Paterson, Kenneth Zohore and Josh Murphy all coming into the side.
Those changes saw Cardiff line-up in a 4-4-1-1 system, which seemed to suit the players a lot more.
#CARBUR team news!
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) September 30, 2018
Burnley lined up in their traditional 4-4-2 system, with Matej Vydra partnering Sam Vokes up front. Aaron Lennon and Guðmundsson played on the flanks, while Joe Hart kept his place in goal.
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) September 30, 2018
What the stats say
It was a meeting of two similar styles at the Cardiff City Stadium, much to Craig Bellamy’s dismay. Both sides favoured the long-ball, which is evidenced by both teams achieving around 60% pass completion, a poor percentage by top flight standards.
The stats suggest that Cardiff were the more dominant of the two sides, winning 67 aerial duels, having more possession and taking 16 more shots than Burnley.
City lack the cutting edge
With 19 shots in Sunday’s clash, many may think that Cardiff City deserved to win the game. They tested the goal 19 times, right?
Well, not quite. You see, shots doesn’t always equal chances. City only hit the target 5 times, meaning it was a relatively comfortable afternoon for former England international Joe Hart.
The Burnley stopper may have won man of the match, but looking at the stats, he only had to make three saves and win two aerial duels.
19 attempts on goal should not be applauded, instead it should raise concern that Cardiff have no creativity, cutting edge or ideas in the final third.
Far too often, Cardiff players were guilty of taking pop-shots from distance, with no real chance of scoring. Josh Murphy, Callum Paterson and Victor Camarasa were all guilty of this at times.
Last season, one of Cardiff’s biggest strengths was their ability to defend well and keep clean sheets. They had one of the Championship’s best defensive records and many were confident that the defence would be able to step up to the Premier League.
Far too often on Sunday, though, Cardiff’s defence was naive and would get caught ball watching. For the first Burnley goal, this was the case. Five players are drawn to the ball, leaving a 3v2 situation in the box once the ball is actually delivered.
Greg Cunningham, the man on the far post, is beaten far too easily in the air by Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson. Cunningham is caught ball watching and isn’t quite aware of how close Guðmundsson is to him. The Irishman doesn’t put enough pressure on the Icelandic winger and it is an easy finish for the Burnley man.
Bruno Manga should be applauded
Quite how Bruno Manga is being questioned at right-back is beyond me. First of all, the Gabon international is a centre-back and probably hates playing at right-back. Secondly, he should be applauded for the way he got forward all game on Sunday.
It’s no easy thing to play right-back and try to get up and down that flank in support of the attack, without neglecting your defensive duties, but Manga did just that.
It was this endeavor that created Cardiff’s goal. Manga, at right-back, received the ball and looked forward to Victor Camarasa. Manga then continued his run, making a run in-field beyond Camarasa. The Spaniard played the ball through to Manga, who cut it back for Josh Murphy (on the edge of the box here) to strike home.
Not bad for a big centre-half and he was much more of an attacking threat that Cunningham on the left.
Missing anchor man leaves holes in City’s midfield
With Cardiff’s defence already coming under scrutiny for their vulnerability, their cause has not been aided in recent weeks by the absence of an anchor man sitting in front of them.
It’s a role Warnock deployed often last year, be it Aron Gunnarsson, Marko Grujic or Craig Bryson. This year, though, Warnock seems to have abandoned this and it’s resulted in a lot of space for opposition midfielders to take advantage of.
Burnley’s winner is a classic example of this. With Cardiff’s midfield overrun, there is an abundance of space for the ball carrier to push forward into.
As the move progresses, central midfielders Harry Arter and Joe Ralls are drawn towards the ball, meaning that Cardiff’s central defenders are occupied by three Burnley players. Left-back Greg Cunningham is drawn into the centre to help them out.
As we watch on a bit further, it’s three on three in the Cardiff box. Sam Vokes gets the better of Greg Cunningham and slots past Neil Etheridge.
While Bamba and Cunningham did not cover themselves in glory here, it’s important to note the sheer lack of protection Cardiff’s defenders are receiving.
If Neil Warnock wants to fix Cardiff’s vulnerability, he needs to offer the back-line more protection and get an anchor man in front of that defence.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.