Fulham 1 – 2 Cardiff City: Bluebirds continue to impress in the Premier League
Though City began the season setting out in a 4-4-1-1 system, Malky Mackay has now moved towards a more fluid formation, which is best described as a 4-3-3. As can be seen by the average position graph to the left, man of the match Gary Medel sat deepest in a midfield triangle completed by Kim Bo-Kyung and Aron Gunnarsson.
Peter Odemwingie – making his first start in the Premier League for Cardiff City – replaced Craig Bellamy in the side, offering a more attack minded option on the right, with Peter Whittingham again fielded on the left of midfield though often playing in a more central role.
The obvious feature of this clash was the way Whittingham and Odemwingie supported Fraizer Campbell up-front during attacks, but dropped back into a more compact 4-5-1 whilst defending, with the midfield offering the back four sufficient cover.
In another sign of attacking intent from Mackay, Andrew Taylor and Kevin Theophile-Catherine – another summer signing who has impressed so far – were told to push forward, with Whittingham and Odemwingie offering protection in the full back slots when needed. This is nothing new for Odemwingie who certainly fits into the Mackay mould of defending from the front.
With six games of this open Premier League season now gone, it seems a good time to weigh up City’s summer signings. Though the exciting Andreas Cornelius has yet to make any impression in the league due to injury, Steven Caulker, Theophile-Catherine and now Odemwingie have all had some time to click – and it’s so far so good for Mackay’s recruitment staff.
City’s failed attempt at the last hurdle to attract Victor Wanyama and Etienne Capoue to the club seemed to be a big blow for the Welsh side heading into the new season. Record signing Medel did give fans some hope, though limited knowledge of the player suggested Cardiff would be signing a player who did more to harm the team than help with numerous sending’s off over the course of his career.
However, it wouldn’t be far wide of the mark to suggest that the Chilean international is fast becoming one of the finest signings the Bluebirds have ever made – with this arguably his best performance to date.
Having completed 68 out of 69 passes, as well as topping the ball recovery and tackles chart, Medel put in one of the fine individual performances of the campaign so far at Craven Cottage, and remains a key player in Cardiff’s hopes of pushing on from their impressive start to the season.
Another player who impressed massively on Saturday is Steven Caulker, who continues to show that Tottenham could have made a big mistake in letting the youngster leave this summer, despite the hefty transfer fee.
Caulker himself completed an impressive number of passes from deep (31 out of 34), and also made numerous clearances and blocks to help out his side. Though Caulker picked up the fans’ man of the match award thanks to his goal, a lot of credit must go to centre-back partner Ben Turner, who continues to prove wrong those who doubted him at the start of the season.
It’s a partnership that is continuing to blossom at the back for the Bluebirds, while fellow newcomers Theophile-Catherine and Odemwingie also linked-up well at Fulham. In fact, Odemwingie and Catherine linked up 11 times in the game – second only to Taylor and Whittingham down the opposite flank. It’s early days, but Mackay seems intent on getting his side to work their way up the field from the back – a few Turner hoof’s aside, the plan is working well.
After spending the final months of last season’s historic promotion campaign sat on the bench, it was not known whether Whittingham would get his chance to shine in the top-tier with Cardiff. Though with six games gone, Whittingham has already shown the rest of the league that he provides his side with, as Gary Neville put it, “a secret weapon” thanks to his set-piece ability.
An assist in the historic defeat of Man City, as well as getting his name on the score-sheet at Hull was a reminder of what Whittingham can do, and he showed it again in West London on the weekend with another assist from a corner, which Caulker put away.
Far removed from his defensive midfield role last season, Whittingham is now in a more comfortable attacking position, where he operates on the left of midfield, before offering support in the middle. He created a game-high three chances from crosses, which shows that his deliveries alone make him almost undroppable.
Bellamy on the other hand was left out of the starting XI, a move that many fans were calling for despite the local-heroes efforts in recent seasons. Another player that has perhaps not been as influential for the side as was expected is Kim Bo-Kyung. Though the South Korean was phenomenal against Manchester City, he has yet to make any significant impact elsewhere and made way for Jordon Mutch before the hour mark on Saturday.
Mutch was a key piece to the promotion jigsaw last season, coming into the side in April to help push the Bluebirds over the line alongside Bo-Kyung and Gunnarsson. Strangely, Mutch was only given cameo appearances in the early season games, with just 10 seconds on the field against West Ham summing this up.
Despite this, Mutch has continued to fight for his place, and after picking up an assist in the League Cup last week, he was given his chance against Fulham which he grabbed by both hands with his sensational winning goal – but does he offer more than Kim?
As can be seen by the snapshot below courtesy of StatsZone, the obvious advantage Mutch offers the side over Kim is his aerial ability – winning four balls in the air in his 30 minutes on the field compared to Kim’s one. Though Kim does have the ability to take-on opponents, he doesn’t create enough openings, as opposed to Mutch who created once chance to go along with his goal. It’s likely that the English youngster will start ahead of Kim on Saturday, though it is a battle that offers Mackay with strong options – exactly what you want at this level.
Despite this Fulham side being full of experience, it must be remembered that they have picked up just one point from their last seven home games, with only one team (Stoke) failing to find the net in the last 18 games at Craven Cottage. Nothing can be taken away from the Bluebirds performance, but this victory came against a poor Fulham side that have now slipped into the bottom three of the Premier League.
Mackay’s men had the most headed efforts on goal of any side this weekend (6) thanks to the delivery of Whittingham, though one worrying aspect is the Bluebirds failure to convert these chances on a more regular basis. However, with games against three of last seasons top six already played – albeit at home – faith must be placed in Campbell to find his scoring boots again.
City’s summer recruits continue to impress, with competition for places now heating up across the field as we head into Saturday’s game against Newcastle at the Cardiff City Stadium. An international break follows that clash, which will give Mackay an opportunity to evaluate individual performances – though a look at the league table will show that Cardiff City are set to make their mark on the Premier League this season.