Three losses in a row meant that Cardiff City faced a mighty challenge with the visit of West Ham United to the Cardiff City Stadium, but the Bluebirds broke their duck with an emphatic performance.
How did the Bluebirds achieve their 2-0 win over the Hammers? We investigate with the VFTN Analysis.
Wait, have you read Terry Phillips’ Match Report? No? Get on it. Click here.
Cardiff are compact and hard to break down
Perhaps one of the most frustrating things in recent weeks has been Cardiff’s openness defensively. The Bluebirds lost their way and mistakes meant that they were making it too difficult for teams to break them down and create goal scoring opportunities.
Against West Ham, that was gone. In it’s place was a tight and well disciplined Cardiff City side.
West Ham are a very good side and everybody knew that they would have a big chunk of possession. In fact, the Bluebirds had just 29% of the possession on Saturday.
The Hammers found it extremely hard to break down Cardiff – who were compact and played narrow when out of possession.
That forced West Ham wide and, as a result, needing to put crosses in. The problem was that the Londoners did not have any aerial presence up front, so any crosses were easily mopped up by Cardiff.
The result was a blunt West Ham attack. Realising that they were getting nowhere with their crosses, West Ham looked to play intricate passes around the edge of Cardiff’s box, but with City’s high volume of players in that area, they were able to intercept on lots of occasions.
Harry Arter is aggressive and puts Cardiff on the front foot
The return to the team of Harry Arter provided a big boost for Cardiff City on Saturday. With Gunnarsson sitting, Camarasa providing the creative spark, Arter provides the perfect balance as the engine of the team.
The on-loan Bournemouth midfielder really is one of my favourite City players in a long time. He epitomises, to me, what a Cardiff City footballer should be.
Okay, he may not be the most creative – although I feel like he is better on the ball than some give him credit for – but he puts Cardiff on the front foot like no one else in the Bluebirds squad.
He did exactly that on Saturday.
Some may mistake Arter’s pressing for wasted energy. What impact can single-handedly pressing the opposition goalkeeper have right?
To an extend, they may have a point. It is highly unlikely that Arter is going to win the ball pressing the goalkeeper.
What he does do, though, is push Cardiff up the pitch. He sets the tempo and encourages his team-mates to press with him, forcing the opposition back line to panic and hit the ball long.
This puts Cardiff on the front foot. Arter is a nuisance – always walking a thin line on the pitch – but he is the engine Cardiff City need. He puts the opposition under pressure and forces mistakes.
In the screenshot above, Arter is all over Mark Noble like a rash. He forces the West Ham captain into a turnover just in front of his own penalty area. It creates a shooting opportunity for Arter – which he unfortunately pulled wide.
How Cardiff have missed Victor Camarasa’s creativity
If Harry Arter is Cardiff’s engine, then Victor Camarasa is a convertible with the roof down on a summer’s day in the country. He’s the sun shining and the wind blowing in your hair. He’s majestic.
It’s felt like an age since Cardiff have seen a fully fit Camarasa firing on all cylinders. Neil Warnock called the Spaniard out in a press conference recently, citing that the player trusted his own medical people above Cardiff’s.
To some it seemed unnecessary, but I think it showed that Warnock knows just how important Camarasa is to Cardiff’s survival chances.
On Saturday, Victor showed his class and proved just how good he is. He is one of the only Cardiff players that takes a moment to carry the ball and draw opposition players in before releasing the ball.
He did just that in the build-up to Cardiff’s opener. He carried the ball into space and drew in West Ham’s defenders, which left space for Josh Murphy to run in behind.
Can I just say – Victor elegantly rolling his foot over the ball just before his pass to put Murphy in for the 1st was utterly gorgeous. Just opened up the lane by a vital few inches and it was so impetuous. What a player.
— View From the Ninian (@ViewFromTheNin) March 11, 2019
Ben (@ViewFromTheNin) sums it up perfectly. Few players would take the time to roll his foot over the ball before releasing it. Few would have the quality to do it.
What Camarasa brings to the side is invaluable. He holds up the ball, which creates time and space for City to get runners in behind. He allows Cardiff to be more of a threat – to penetrate opposition defenders.
Was that Cardiff’s best performance of the season? Maybe. In many ways, it felt like Cardiff’s 2-0 victory over Bournemouth. The opposition dominated possession, but Cardiff absorbed their pressure well, which left space in behind the opposition’s defence.
While Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa earned the plaudits here, there were stellar performances all over the pitch. Sean Morrison stepped up in the absence of Sol Bamba. Lee Peltier continues to impress, while Gunnarsson provides the perfect balance to the headline grabbing Camarasa and Arter.
After a win like that, the last thing you want is a three-week break, but that’s what Cardiff have to look forward to. The visit of Chelsea, before a trip to Manchester City is up next. At least Warnock will have three weeks to prepare!
Before you go… Have you read Terry Phillips’ player ratings from Saturday? Go do it now. Click here.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.