With Scott Salter away, Ben James will play. A different take on the analysis this week as Ben gets to grip with a new app and tries to sift through the wreckage of an absolutely demoralising loss at Reading.

The Importance of Joe Ralls

Last season, Joe Ralls split opinion like a decent pass from him can split a defence. And it seemed to impact him. His penalty miss against West Ham was a neat encapsulation of his attitude. He wanted to take the penalty to show people he wasn’t bowed by their criticism but his lack of confidence meant he missed it. 

This season, despite the poor team performances, has seen Ralls start brightly. He’s been heavily involved in every game and despite the loss at Reading, he was bright and constantly looking for the ball. Indeed, he attempted the most passes of any player on the pitch:

Perhaps most crucially, was that he attempted the most attacking passes:

This showcases just how involved Ralls was on Sunday, and how we should be looking to utilise his talents further up the pitch. When Pack went off injured, our midfield seemed to clam-up, as Vaulks, Ralls, and Bacuna tried to familiarise themselves with each other and having to compensate for Pack going off. This means Ralls is often caught between fulfilling defensive duties and pushing forward when he can. His dashboard shows just how much an influence he can exert on a game:

He’s making defensive recoveries in his own box, winning aerial duels at halfway, and looking to play wingers and centre forwards in where he can. He’s also taking shots, and putting in tackles across the pitch. Clearly defining Ralls as an attacking midfielder could bring out the best in a player who clearly has talent and willing by the bucket full. 

Defenders as our most effective attackers

Despite a piece earlier this week praising Glatzel as an effective target man, he struggled against Reading. Indeed, stats show he won just two of 11 attempted aerial duels. One of the biggest problems against Reading was that the ball just didn’t stick, with Reading players making 50 clearances across the game – the most of any team in any game so far this Championship season – leaving us constantly scrambling back. 

As the below shows, our most effective attacking aerial threats were defenders and, amazingly, Joe Ralls:

This suggests a reliance on set-pieces and throws to get balls into the box. Indeed, there were moments of sheer frustration yesterday as passes were exchanged on the edge of the box but crosses weren’t put in. Why bring on Paterson to support Glatzel if we aren’t going to get the ball into the box?

We know Flint and Moz can be threats from set-pieces but we need to consider how to best utilise Glatzel. His brightest moments against Reading came when he got the ball down on the edge of the box and was able to turn and shoot. Perhaps this is why Paterson was favoured over Reid? With a player like Paterson free to win flick ons, Glatzel can start running the line and getting onto balls on the ground. And that could give us slightly less one-dimensional up top.

Attacking intent still there 

Despite yesterday’s performance feeling so woeful, the team still tried to attack:

In my search for some encouraging signs, this is what I found. We attempted a lot more passes this week than compared to against Luton – around 100 more. We increased our possession to nearly half – up around 10% from the previous week. And we kept up our attacking intent. As you can see, we made less passes in the defensive third and far more in the attacking third. This suggests we are moving the ball forward quickly – encouraging on one hand, discouraging on the other. 

The issue yesterday was that the ball just didn’t seem to stick up top. It would come back as quickly as it went forward and that left us exposed. It’s good that we want to be direct and quick in attack but when it leaves us exposed, as it did for Readings first goal, questions need to be asked. We retained the ball in the middle third perhaps more than you may think but without Pack putting his foot on it, we probably didn’t make it count.

No imagination and no variety in shots 

Sometimes, it can really feel like Cardiff just don’t take enough shots. It’s hard to remember any that stood out against Reading. Glatzel’s in the second half; Ralls just before half time. Bar that, the Reading keeper didn’t have that much to do. And, without getting all Vincent Tan on you, the two images below speak volumes.

If you want to keep a keeper busy, and constantly guessing, your variety of shots shouldn’t look like Cardiff’s. And out of the seven shots we got on target, five of them were blocked. And is it any wonder when you look at the above image? Shooting from distance into a crowded area gives defenders prime opportunity to clear the ball. 

When you look at Reading’s shot variety, you’ve got far more to play with. They seemed to like getting on the blindside of our defenders and, indeed, their first goal came from a Puscas break. But Smithies would have been thinking a lot more about their attacking intent, looking at where shots would come from. We, on the other hand, kept going down the throat of the keeper in the hope that one would stick. It didn’t. 

We have ability in our squad. Hoilett and NML both showed their aptitude from range last season and Ralls should be encouraged to get some more shots off. But if we keep going down the middle of the goal, it’s probably not going to change our goal scoring exploits that significantly.