What a miserable day Saturday was. Cardiff City fell to a 3-0 loss to Newcastle United in what was a drab performance from the Bluebirds.
Cardiff manager Neil Warnock will surely be unhappy with how his team performed, despite his comments post-match that there were positives to take away.
What exactly went wrong for the Bluebirds? And what (if anything) went right? We investigate in the VFTN Analysis.
Warnock’s choice of system raised a few eyebrows before kick off and one area of the pitch that suffered because of that was the centre of midfield.
Playing a 4-4-1-1 system meant that the midfield two of Victor Camarasa and Joe Ralls were tasked with controlling the centre of the pitch. Newcastle also only played two central midfielders, so it wasn’t a case of City’s midfield being overrun, instead they were far too passive.
I want to take a moment to discuss Joe Ralls, who has become a bit of a scapegoat this season. Ralls, to his defence, works hard and gives his all every match. Is he good enough for the Premier League? Maybe not.
Ralls got a lot of stick on Saturday, but I don’t think he is to blame, he played his game. By nature, Ralls is a relaxed player; he doesn’t have the energy of Arter or Gunnarsson. That resulted in the midfield being too passive on Saturday, with Victor Camarasa hardly an all-action midfield. The blame for that lies with Warnock’s team selection.
City missed Arter and Gunnarsson’s pro-active approach in midfield, which coupled with Warnock’s selection forced Camarasa to sit deeper than he would’ve liked. The Spaniard is Cardiff’s most creative outlet and likes to impact the play higher up the pitch, but playing a midfield two means that he is forced to be more disciplined and play deeper.
That meant that Cardiff lacked a creative spark further up the pitch.
Lack of pressing gives Newcastle freedom
On that note, the passiveness of Cardiff’s midfield meant that he team’s pressing suffered. Cardiff’s aggressive press is often set by Harry Arter, who missed out due to injury. Arter is usually backed up by the Icelandic captain Aron Gunnarsson, who was on the bench due to a knock.
With those two missing, Cardiff lacked any sort of press. Not just in midfield, but throughout the team.
Newcastle’s opening goal was a prime example of that. Fabian Schar – United’s centre-half – dribbled the ball from the half way line, all the way to the box and put the ball in the back of the net. It was ridiculous.
Great from Schar, poor from Cardiff.
While Oumar Niasse tracked Schar from the half-way line (and probably should’ve brought him down and taken one for the team) his team mates let him down.
Camarasa and Ralls stood by as Schar dribbled past them, while Cardiff’s back line backed off until Schar had a free shot at goal in the penalty area.
Set-pieces were one of Cardiff’s biggest strengths last year, but have been one of their biggest weaknesses this year. How? It’s a complete mystery.
In both boxes, Cardiff have been poor at set-pieces this year and Saturday was another example of that.
Delivery was poor – Camarasa hit multiple corners straight into the goalkeepers hands – and there’s no threat when there is a good delivery.
Defensively, Cardiff are all over the place. Players are losing their markers and forwards are easily winning balls in our box.
Schar’s second goal demonstrated this. Solomon Rondon – admittedly a force in the air – easily wins the first ball. Schar – and another Newcastle team mate – drift unmarked at the back post for a tap in.
It’s basic stuff and Warnock must rectify it if Cardiff are to survive this year.
Niasse offers a glimpse of what he can offer
There was much excitement at seeing Oumar Niasse in the starting line up on Saturday, but in hindsight it was far too early for the on-loan Everton man to start.
There was a clear lack of understanding between Niasse and his team-mates and the striker was a bit rusty.
That said, he did offer glimpses of what he can offer. He gave Cardiff an outlet to launch quick counter attacks, with his pace a dangerous weapon to break against teams.
On a number of occasions, Neil Etheridge sought to launch a quick ball to Niasse in order to launch a counter attack. Without Niasse, Etheridge has often opted to let his team mates find their shape and then launch the ball long.
A damning analysis, but Cardiff really have been poor in the last couple of weeks. A lot of that has to fall on Neil Warnock’s shoulders, who simply isn’t setting his side up to win games.
Some fans have been calling for Warnock’s head, and while I don’t necessarily agree with that, the manager needs to make some changes or Cardiff will continue to drop down the table.
What did you think of the game? Let us know by Tweeting @VFTNinian.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.