Sunday evening saw me as close as ever to deleting my much-overused Twitter app as I became increasingly despairing of the hyperbole on display. Football fans tend to walk a fine line between joy and despair at the best of times. This, however, quickly became something stronger.
Sunday’s abject display against Reading seemed to mark something of a low point in Neil Warnock’s tenure. It was certainly the first time I’ve seen wide-ranging criticism of him and the team online.
Cardiff City’s opening five games seemed to present a real opportunity for the Bluebirds to replicate the promotion campaign of 2017/18. Five wins in a row during August set them up for going up and they never really seemed to look back.
Whether that was a foolish sentiment or not, it’s clear to see that Cardiff will not be leading the pack anytime soon. What’s changed? Have the Bluebirds and more importantly, Neil Warnock, been found out?
In the opening five matches of the 2017/18 campaign, Cardiff City’s record was as follows:
Goals scored: 10
Goals conceded: 2
Goal difference: +8
Shots taken: 51
Shots on target: 24
Shots conceded: 26
The starting XI utilised was extremely stable, with the nine players below starting at least four of the five matches:
Contrast that with the three games below and the contrast may not be as great as you think in terms of personnel utilised, but the defensive record stands out.
Goals scored: 4
Goals conceded: 7
Goal difference: -3
Shots taken:: 44
Shots on target: 16
Shots conceded: 36
The starting XI in the first three games is relatively stable in that four players have started all three matches and a further seven have started at least two of the three.
Started all matches:
Started two of the three matches:
As you can see above, it seems to be clear where the main problem lies and to be fair to Warnock, he identified it in his post-match press conference at Reading.
Cardiff made clean sheets a priority in their promotion campaign of 2017/18. In total, they managed an impressive 19 clean sheets, only conceding three or more goals in three matches all season.
They’ve already conceded three goals in two of their three matches this season.
It would be unfair to put the blame squarely at the feet of the goalkeepers. You will see above that the Bluebirds are allowing more shots to be taken against them this season.
The problem isn’t necessarily all down to Manga’s absence either. He didn’t single-handedly keep the defence strong and was prone to a mistake or two himself.
It would be fair to say that the loss of Gunnarsson and Bamba (real leaders on and off the pitch) has begun to take it’s toll and Etheridge’s bond with the defence is undisputed.
Cardiff are creating as many, if not more, chances than they did the season they were promoted.
The starting XI is relatively stable, if not potentially slightly weaker than 2017/18, but don’t forget; many of us didn’t know or trust Etheridge and Mendez-Laing in the early days, so you won’t find me writing our new players off just yet.
The real problem seems to lie in Cardiff allowing the opposition to make and take chances. This is where the disparity is laid bare.
If the Bluebirds can solidify the defence and recapture their ability to nullify attacks against them, then they really aren’t that far from the finished article.
Amazing when you look at the facts isn’t it?