When we look back at the 2018/19 season, there will be a couple of moments that stand out. The win against Fulham, our first of the season, will be one. The first away win at Leicester another. Sadly, the Emiliano Sala tragedy will be another.
Whether Cardiff City stay up or go down, Saturday’s win against Southampton will live on in supporters’ memories for a long, long time.
In many ways, it was the perfect away performance from the Bluebirds. They defended for their lives, sat deep and absorbed plenty of pressure and hit Southampton on the break when possible.
City defensively superb
Cardiff may not have the most quality in the Premier League, but there are few teams you’d say have more heart than Cardiff’s squad. The City’s defending summed that up perfectly on Saturday.
Players were not only disciplined and solid, but determined to stop the ball entering the back of the net. Lee Peltier, Bruno Manga, Sol Bamba and Joe Bennett were superb, putting their bodies on the line to keep Saints at bay.
Sean Morrison is an important player for this team, but Cardiff have been superb without him. Bruno Manga and Sol Bamba have formed a solid partnership while having defenders playing in their natural position has been beneficial.
A change in shape works well
When the line up was announced, everyone (including Cardiff’s social media team) expected the Bluebirds to line up in a 4-3-3 formation. It was expected that Bobby Reid would move out left, with Harry Arter joining Joe Ralls and Aron Gunnarsson in the centre of the park.
In reality, Cardiff spent much of the match playing a 5-3-2 system. Lee Peltier played as a right-sided centre half, with Callum Paterson and Joe Bennett occupying wing-back roles. That meant a midfield three and two up top.
The result was a Cardiff team that was difficult to break down and a crowded centre of the pitch. It forced Southampton to play out wide and away from Cardiff’s goal.
The back three also allowed more aggressive pressing, particularly from Sol Bamba. The City fan favourite is a really aggressive defender, which sometimes catches him out in a back four, but in a back three, it means he has sufficient cover centrally and can break out of the line and press the ball.
Callum Paterson highly effective aerially
When Neil Warnock decided to play Callum Paterson out on the right against Tottenham in an attempt to target the vertical aerial ball versus Danny Rose, there were a few raised eyebrows. Not that it was a completely bizarre move, but because the Scottish international was Cardiff’s first choice striking option at that point.
I thought last week against Bournemouth Paterson contributed a lot as a ‘vertical winger’ but against Southampton he was absolutely superb.
Paterson is Cardiff’s biggest aerial threat in attack and he continued that in his right-wing back role. His presence out wide allows Cardiff to target full-backs, who tend to be smaller defenders, with vertical aerial balls, which Paterson more often than not wins.
Against the Saints, Paterson won 14 aerial battles – the same as the entire Southampton starting line up.
Paterson was superb and adds a real dangerous outlet for Cardiff in the air, creating opportunities for forwards Bobby Decordova-Reid and Oumar Niasse.
The main talking points tactically were Cardiff’s change in shape and the threat Callum Paterson offered from the right flank.
In all honesty, though, Cardiff’s win was largely down to determination. You just sensed that the Bluebirds were not going to lose that game. It was a real battle and Cardiff were determined to come out on top, no matter what.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.