I struggle to remember a time I felt so deflated leaving the Cardiff City Stadium. There’s no shame in losing to Watford, but the manner of the defeat hurts. Cardiff are better than that. They need to be better than that to stay up.
To need to watch the game back for a second time on Sunday evening was a punishment for a former sin, I’m sure. But here we are. The VFTN Analysis of Watford’s dismantling of Cardiff City. Enjoy…
Warnock must take some of the blame
Like many Cardiff fans, I was concerned to see Sean Morrison return to the starting line-up in place of Lee Peltier, who seemingly missed out through injury.
It was the obvious change to make, with the skipper returning, but Sol Bamba and Bruno Manga have played so well together in the centre of our defence, that it was a shame to break them up.
Add to the fact that Morrison has had a somewhat underwhelming season in the Premier League.
That wasn’t the only strange decision from Neil Warnock. He opted to play a 5-2-3 system, with Leandro Bacuna and Joe Bennett playing as wing-backs. A midfield two of Joe Ralls and Harry Arter played centrally, while Josh Murphy and Callum Patterson flanked Oumar Niasse.
It looked a strange system straight away, with Cardiff outnumbered in the centre of the park. What was even stranger was Warnock’s decision making throughout the game.
The system changed lots and Cardiff struggled to cope with Watford’s movement and bodies in midfield (more on that to come). For the last twenty minutes, I couldn’t tell you what system Cardiff were playing. It was all over the place.
It was an evening of bemusement for the Cardiff faithful. Why did Bobby Reid stay on the bench, for example? A bad day at the office that wasn’t helped by strange decisions from the Gaffer.
Poor performances all-round
Warnock’s poor decisions were not helped by the fact that nine or 10 players had very poor games. In fact, I’d say only Bacuna and Niasse could come out of the game with their heads held high.
The players just weren’t at the races and looked to be a few gears behind Watford. The visitors also looked a hell of a lot fitter and more mobile than Cardiff.
Players made mistakes all throughout the game. Harry Arter had probably his worst game in a blue shirt and his mistake led to the third goal. Josh Murphy continued to frustrate; his play has just become too predictable.
The mistakes continued throughout the game and Cardiff caused themselves lots of problems. Delivery from set-pieces was poor and it was Joe Bennett’s free-kick that failed to clear the first man that led to Watford’s second.
Cardiff’s two man midfield are dominated
I’ve argued all season long the importance of Aron Gunnarsson and Friday’s game was the perfect example, for me, of how important he is to this Cardiff City side.
Joe Ralls and Harry Arter are very good midfielders, but they are both fairly indisciplined positionally. Neither like to sit and protect the defence; instead they press on the front foot and are aggressive in their midfield play.
That is great, when there is someone to guard the space in behind. Without Aron Gunnarsson, there was a huge gap in Cardiff’s midfield.
In Abdoulaye Doucoure, Will Hughes, Etienne Capoue and Roberto Pereyra, Watford have a host of brilliant midfielders who were able to take full advantage of the gaping holes in Cardiff’s midfield.
Warnock tried to restrict this issue by instructing Joe Bennett and Leandro Bacuna to man-mark and follow their players into central spaces, but this left big holes in behind.
It was clear to me throughout the game that Cardiff needed a third body in midfield and I’m surprised Warnock didn’t make that change. Gunnarsson for Murphy, with Paterson playing up top with Niasse would’ve given Cardiff more stability in the centre of the park.
Niasse needs support
It was a shame to see Bobby Reid start on the bench – and stay there – throughout the game. The former Bristol City striker proved against Bournemouth the difference he can make and he forged a good partnership with Oumar Niasse up top.
We’ve not seen that partnership blossom because Warnock hasn’t allowed it to. Against Southampton Reid was moved to the wing, while he stayed on the bench here.
Niasse has been brilliant since joining the club and leads the line well, but I don’t think he’s the man to grab the goals. He creates dangerous chances by stretching the play, but Cardiff need a player up there to take advantage of that.
Against Watford, too often Niasse was left isolated up the top of the pitch. He worked hard and tried to make things happen, but was given way too much to do by himself.
If Cardiff are to be successful in their mission to avoid relegation, Warnock must give Niasse a striker partner to grab the goals. In my view, Bobby Reid should be that man.
A day to forget for Cardiff City, but plenty of lessons to be learnt. With 11 games to go, Warnock and the players must put this game behind them and get back to winning ways.
Watford are a superb side – and are where they are for a reason – but Cardiff will be disappointed with how easy they made it for Watford. Attentions turn to Everton, with three points up for grabs against a Toffees side that have struggled at times this year.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.