The new Championship season is underway with the focus shifting from transfers to the opening match of the season.
Saturday was just the start of a long slog, though, with the Championship infamous for it’s tough and gruelling schedule.
With promotion the aim for many Cardiff fans, what do the Bluebirds need to do to achieve promotion this season?
Build momentum early on
It’s not uncommon for a relegated Premier League side to struggle to adjust to life back in English football’s second tier. Last season Stoke City flirted with relegation before Nathan Jones came in, while Hull City, Sunderland and QPR have all struggled in recent years after relegation from the top flight.
Now I do acknowledge that Cardiff City are in a better place than most of these sides. Those listed have had to deal with unrest at the club, with star players leaving, managers getting the sack and supporters unhappy with the way their club is being run.
Cardiff are united and bar the loss of Victor Camarasa, the side’s main creative outlet last year, the squad looks arguably stronger.
The Championship can be a shock to the system and the aforementioned sides have often gotten off to a bad start once they returned to the Championship.
If Cardiff are to achieve promotion this season, they’ve got to build momentum early on. Losing to Wigan on the opening day was a blog, but facing two of the league’s relegation contenders in the next two matches (Luton and Reading) will certainly give the Bluebirds a platform to bounce back and show that they mean business.
Fight for points in the big matches
Cardiff’s first big test comes four games in as they welcome fellow relegated side Huddersfield Town to the Cardiff City Stadium in the first mid-week game of the season.
Cardiff have to fight for points in the season’s big games. It’s something the side did adequately during the 2017/18 season, picking up 14 points out of 30 against the other top six sides.
The Bluebirds will face big games this season, with Fulham, Leeds, Bristol City, Brentford and West Brom all in the hunt for promotion. If Cardiff can beat – or at least take points off – these sides, they’ll be in with a good shot of promotion.
Avoid the Christmas slump
Back in 2017/18, things were looking good for Cardiff City until Christmas hit. The Bluebirds were on a fine unbeaten run heading into the festive period, with five wins from their previous six games.
The four game Christmas schedule was awful for Cardiff, though, with four losses and some pretty bad performances.
A 2-0 horror show away to Bolton was followed up with a 4-2 home loss against Fulham on Boxing Day. Cardiff ended 2017 with another home loss, 1-0 to Preston, before starting 2018 with a 2-1 away loss to QPR.
Thankfully, the Bluebirds got back to winning ways in style with a 4-0 drubbing of Sunderland, but that four game slump could’ve proved costly come the end of the season.
If Neil Warnock is to achieve his ninth promotion, he has to make sure Cardiff avoid that festive drop in form. It’s a tough run of games but it can really make or break your season.
This season, Cardiff face Preston (h), Millwall (h), Sheffield Wednesday (a) and QPR (h) over the festive period, before welcoming Swansea City to the CCS, so they’ll want to be in good form heading into that derby.
Find some creativity
We spoke above about Victor Camarasa being the major loss for Cardiff City this year and it’s his creativity that will be missed the most. The Spaniard – who spent the season on loan from Real Betis – was the player to get the ball down and look to play in the Premier League last season.
While Joe Ralls, Will Vaulks and Leandro Bacuna are all decent on the ball, the lack that guile and cutting edge that Camarasa – or the likes of Peter Whittingham in previous years – possesses.
It is expected that Bobby Decordova-Reid will play the number 10 role this season, having spent the majority of last season in the shadow of Camarasa. But if Camarasa was more of a classic creative playmaker, Reid represents more of a withdrawn striker in that role.
So while he will be a goal threat, his creative output may be less than Camarasa’s.
For me, it’s key that Cardiff get someone in with a bit of creativity. Teams will see Cardiff as favourites this year and therefore will let the Bluebirds have the ball a bit more, so Cardiff need someone who is comfortable getting the ball down and playing.
There’s rumours of a third addition this week, following the signings of Whyte and Glatzel, so here’s hoping Warnock has another creative magician up his sleeves.
Get back to their best from set-pieces
In 2017/18, Cardiff were kings from set-pieces. They scored the joint most goals from set-pieces (21) along with Wolves (all stats from WhoScored?). Last season, though, Cardiff lost their way slightly with set-pieces, with just 11 goals scored.
The Bluebirds were also slack defensively, conceding the second most goals from set-play (15, joint second with Chelsea). For comparison, Cardiff conceded the joint fewest in 2017/18 (9).
Of course, you have to take into account the quality of the leagues. No doubt delivery is better in the Premier League, and opposition players have more quality.
That said; Cardiff didn’t do the basics well in the top flight. That has to change this season.
The Bluebirds cannot concede sloppy goals from dead-ball situations, and they have to make more of chances at the other end.
Sean Morrison is an important player in both boxes. Last season the skipper had an xG (expected goals, stat taken from understat.com) of 5.05 yet scored just a single goal. For those who don’t quite know what xG means, here’s a quick explanation: every chance is assessed, determining whether a player should have scored from a certain opportunity.
Morrison scored seven goals in 2017/18 and the Bluebirds will be hoping he can find his scoring boots once again. The addition of Aden Flint will help in both boxes too, with the defender signed from Boro grabbing eight goals in 2017/18 while playing for Bristol City.
Grind out results
One of my favourite things about Neil Warnock’s Cardiff side is it’s never say die attitude. Throughout 2017/18 – and at times last season – the side would fight against all odds to grind out results.
There was the late Danny Ward equaliser against Fulham, the 2-0 win away at Hull when it mattered most and moments like the Ken Zohore winner against Southampton last year.
Warnock’s sides have the ability to grind out results and they have to do that once more this year. There will be plenty of tough games, plenty of times when the Bluebirds will face long spells without the ball, but Warnock will know how to set up his side to get those points.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.