Attacking problems threatening to damage Bluebirds campaign
A week can be a long time in football. Following Cardiff City’s historic victory against local rivals Swansea, Malky Mackay and his side were labelled as heroes as they strengthened their mid-table status in the Premier League. A disappointing loss against Aston Villa just six days later however, combined with victories for fellow relegation threatened clubs, means that Cardiff fans are now sitting a little less comfortably as we head into the international break.
The two week hiatus offers meticulous planner Mackay the opportunity to analyse the games to date to see how his side can push on. It doesn’t take a genius to work out however, that the major problems Cardiff City currently face is stopping opponents creating so many chances, and creating opportunities of their own.
It’s no coincidence that Cardiff’s player of the season thus far has been goalkeeper David Marshall, whose impressive saves have often been the difference between the Welsh club facing a crushing defeat and walking away with a point. In the games against Tottenham (11 saves), Norwich (10 saves) and Newcastle (8 saves), Marshall showed just why he is so important to Mackay’s side, but it also highlighted that Cardiff simply allow opponents too much time and space to shoot.
Add to this the fact that defensive shield Gary Medel has picked up the Man of the Match accolade on three separate occasions this season, combined with Steven Caulker making the most blocks in the Premier League, and you begin to build a bleak defensive picture. However, the 4-1 mauling at Stamford Bridge aside, Mackay’s men can be fairly happy with the way the first quarter of this season has gone from a defensive viewpoint – three clean sheets in 11 games backing this up, the Bluebirds must however stop allowing opposing teams so many opportunities to build attacks.
Coming into the season with five recognised strikers – Fraizer Campbell, Joe Mason, Andreas Cornelius, Rudy Gestede and Nicky Maynard – combined with wingers Craig Bellamy and Peter Odemwingie who can both play in an advanced role, Mackay would have been fairly content with his squad. Yet an early season injury to promising striker Cornelius seemingly changed everything. Instead of now having a tall and powerful targetman, Mackay was instead left relying on Campbell, and more recently Odemwingie, to play in the lone-striker role in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The attacking statistics are alarming for Cardiff City fans. Since Campbell’s two goals against Manchester City in the clubs first home game back in the top tier, the striker has had just one strike on target – that coming against Swansea last weekend. In that period, the one-time-capped England international has made nine appearances, including six starts. Campbell has had three shots blocked, and a further four shots off target – that’s a total of eight shots in over 500 minutes of action – simply not good enough for a Premier League striker.
So how does Odemwingie, the man who replaced Campbell in the starting line-up, compare? The Nigerian has made four appearances in the lone-striker role, and his return rate is equally as bad as his team-mates: just one solo effort on target. It would be unfair to criticise Odemwingie however, as he is being played out of position in the forward role, and he has already proved that he can be an asset to the team when played in the right position – his goal against Newcastle earlier this season proof of that.
We can break this down further, and look at how fellow attacking players – Peter Whittingham, Kim Bo-Kyung, Craig Bellamy and Jordon Mutch – have helped out the strikers from midfield. In the most recent game against Villa, Odemwingie alarmingly failed to receive a single pass in or around the opposition area (above). This was a similar story against Swansea, where he received just one pass in the opponents box in the 75 minutes that he was on the field. So whilst Campbell and Odemwingie are failing to get shots away at goal, their teammates are equally at fault.
There is however some positive news for the Malaysian owned club: the return of Andreas Cornelius. Although the Dane may take time to recover from a lengthy injury picked up at Accrington Stanley in August, as well as adjusting to a new style of football in Britain, Cornelius will perfectly suit the lone striker role and help bring advanced midfielders into play.
With 18 goals in the Danish Superliga last season, Cornelius forced his way into the Denmark international team, only to be struck down by injury so early into the new season. Whilst all hopes shouldn’t be pinned on the man who broke the clubs transfer record fee back in June, it’s fair to say that he will add another dimension to the side which will allow Mackay the opportunity to experiment a bit more.
The attacking statistics are alarming for Cardiff City fans. Since Campbell’s two goals against Manchester City in the clubs first home game back in the top tier, the striker has had just one strike on target
It’s been fairly argued by some fans that Joe Mason, whose loan move to Bolton was today called off, and Craig Noone, who has yet to make a single appearance in the league, would have added to the side in an attacking sense, but Mackay has instead stuck with his solid defensive unit at the expense of flair players such as Noone. The clash at Villa Park this weekend would have been the perfect chance for the former Plymouth man to make his Premier League bow, but Mackay instead opted for Maynard to replace Bellamy, who is struggling to make any sort of impression at this level.
On the face of it, Cardiff City have made a good start to the campaign, though with home matches against heavyweights Manchester United and Arsenal next up, and off-field matters no doubt continuing to surface, Mackay knows that if his side are to stay in the Premier League, they need to improve drastically in certain areas. A week is a long time in football, but it could be an even longer season for the Bluebirds if they don’t drastically improve in an attacking sense.