Cardiff City kicked off their Premier League campaign with a 2-0 loss to Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium. In the lead up to the match, there was a sense of excitement around the club, with many looking forward to the return of domestic football.
Post-match, there has been a feeling of separation among the Cardiff faithful. Arguments, differences of opinion and abuse have all ensued since the opening day loss.
Before this game, neither Cardiff nor Neil Warnock have won their opening matches of a Premier League season and that tradition continued as goals from Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson gave Eddie Howe a victory over the man 28 years and 363 days his elder.
But what can we take from the 2-0 loss? Our man Scott Salter dissects the loss and considers what the stats and tactical decisions tell us about the match.
Before you get started, have you checked out our match report from legendary local journalist Terry Phillips? No? What are you waiting for? Check it out here.
Cardiff City lined up in a familiar 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrid system, with wingers Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing flanking lone striker Bobby Reid. Sol Bamba sat in an unfamiliar role in front of the defence, with Callum Paterson and Joe Ralls in front of him.
Bamba’s role was the most interesting in Warnock’s side; although a defensive powerhouse, Bamba struggled with play, in and around him, rather than in front of him like in his centre-back role.
Here’s the #BOUCAR team news you’ve been waiting for!
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) August 11, 2018
Hosts Bournemouth lined up in a 4-4-2 system, with strikers Josh King and Callum Wilson looking to stretch the pitch for Eddie Howe’s side. Playing David Brooks and Ryan Fraser out wide was an interesting choice for Howe, with both players liking to drift inside. This meant that full-backs Charlie Daniels and Adam Smith had room to overlap and push forwards.
? Brooks in for debut
? King, Wilson up top
? Surman captain
— AFC Bournemouth ? (@afcbournemouth) August 11, 2018
What the stats say
The 2-0 scoreline, and lots of the reaction on social media, suggests that Cardiff were completely overrun by Eddie Howe’s side. A possession stat of 63% to Bournemouth also adds to this theory, as does the higher number of Bournemouth passes.
What’s worth remembering, though, is the style of play of both sides. Bournemouth are well known to be a side that like to play possession football, using small triangles of passes to build their play up the field. Cardiff on the other hand favour a more direct style of play, often using a single pass to get the ball from their own box into the final third.
We’ll see a lot of stats like this throughout the season. I wouldn’t say you were crazy if you put your house on us not having a higher possession stat than the opposition in any of our games this season.
For all of their possession, Bournemouth only had two more shots than Cardiff in the match (they did have three on target compared to Cardiff’s one). They also cleared the ball from their area seven more times than City, suggesting that the Bluebirds applied a lot more pressure than many suggest.
We mustn’t read too much into the fouls stat, but I included it as it’s interesting that Eddie Howe’s idealistic Bournemouth side committed more fouls than anti-football Neil Warnock’s Cardiff.
Reid dropping deep
With Kenneth Zohore missing through injury, new signing Bobby Reid was given the nod up front ahead of Gary Madine and Danny Ward. It was a bold call from Neil Warnock, who usually favours a big target man up front.
Reid instead used his pace and technical ability to look to link up play between the central midfielders and the wingers. In theory, it should work well on the counter attack and it’s something that sides like Liverpool have done successfully with Roberto Firmino up front, but on this occasion Cardiff were unable to build up the phases of play to take advantage of the situation.
Instead, Bobby Reid was often left too isolated against strong defenders in Nathan Ake and Steve Cook.
What we’ve learnt from this, though, is that if Reid is paired with Zohore, or plays just in behind him, he could wreak havoc by dropping deep to connect the play.
In the above screenshot, Reid has dropped deep from his striking position, pulling Nathan Ake out of the Bournemouth back line. He receives a pass from Sol Bamba, playing in the DM role, and links up with the forward running Callum Paterson with a nice touch around the corner.
Suddenly Cardiff are on the counter attack, with Paterson running into space and the wide-men high up in support.
This move lead to a cross into the box from Mendez-Laing, but there were not enough bodies in the box. With Zohore up top, this could be a great chance for the City.
The role of Bamba
It’s needless to say that Sol Bamba is much better for Cardiff City in the centre of defence. He is a colossus in the air and operates well when the play is in front of him.
Playing in the midfield anchor role on Saturday, Bamba was clearly uncomfortable. His lack of mobility was clear, struggling to keep up with runners from midfield.
The above image is taken in the build up to Bourmemouth’s opener. Bamba is faced 2 v 1 in midfield, with runners beyond his midfield colleagues. He is faced with the choice of going to press Ryan Fraser, or to try and anticipate the pass to Josh King, who has dropped deep.
Bamba does neither and also loses Fraser, who runs beyond him. It is Fraser, of course, who finds himself free in the box to fire home the opener.
Although the Bluebirds lost the game 2-0, there were some positives to be taken. Bobby Reid showed how dangerous he can be when dropping deep to link up the play, a weapon that could be useful for the Bluebirds this season. It’s key to get him in AMC, though, with a out-and-out striker up top.
What’s also important is getting Sol Bamba back into a position where he is natural. It’s obvious that his inclusion there was due to injury and I think that either Aron Gunnarsson or Harry Arter will be deployed there once available.
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