It’s tough to take a loss like the one Cardiff City suffered at the hands of arch-rivals Swansea City on Saturday but take it we must. I declared after last week’s win “It’s a start”. Well unfortunately we have to start all over again.
The Swans were better. Cardiff was poor throughout despite Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s opinion that we missed our chances. There were a few glimpses of attacking play but nothing more.
The disappointment for me was that in a game where we really had nothing to lose, the three home games out of this current series of four being the most vital, we could have stormed into the Liberty and attacked Swansea. Even a loss in a spectacular attacking display would have lifted the spirits. It seemed made for OGS to be bold. In the end what gains in confidence were made against Norwich were lost and even lowered after the defeat against Swansea.
It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but take my word for it, when the starting line-up was announced I immediately began texting friends intensely concerned about the selection. When I saw the tactical decision I was even more upset.
What happened next was inevitable especially as the substitutions OGS made were as poor as the original errors of line-up and strategy.
In a nutshell playing Bo-Kyung Kim and Peter Whittingham was a disaster. To make room for Wilfried Zaha as an out-and-out winger OGS decided to go without a right winger to maintain three central midfield players and allow the strength of Fabio in attack to be used along the right.
It didn’t work. Whittingham was again poor and Kim is out of his depth, something I have been saying for a long time. He is too weak for the Premier League, as is Whittingham. Because of this the engine room of the team was under powered. Gary Medal is saddled with far too much covering work to do and it is affecting his game as well.
On the outside Fabio and Declan John are not the answer especially with a lightweight tackle free central midfield. Neither full-back can defend adequately enough. Fabio was beaten with a ball inside him because he was too tight to Routledge leaving the channel open behind him just as Craig Noone had done in the game against Norwich which also cost a goal. Then John was beaten at the far post by letting his man, Nathan Dyer, drift inside him for Swansea’s second.
The problems at full-back are killing Cardiff. As I said in previous articles, other teams are focusing on these deficiencies. For Fabio it is a major problem in his make-up. He’s been around long enough to be better at this but in time he should improve. Declan John is 18, his is a baptism of fire and only experience can help. What Cardiff does not have is time for Fabio or John right now.
For any Cardiff left-back the problem will also be Zaha’s lack of defensive instinct. What we get with Zaha comes at a price.
On his arrival OGS suggested there was the basis of a good squad at Cardiff it just needed additional help. I don’t know if Kevin Theophile-Catherine and Andrew Taylor are ready to play but they need to return if only because they are the best defensive minded full-backs we have. Even Kevin McNaughton can be picked over Fabio and John for now.
In central defence I hope new signing Juan Calla is available and ready to replace Ben Turner. The ex-Coventry man’s distribution on Saturday was dreadful. I like Turner but now he needs a rest, his confidence on the ball is shattered and he was at fault for Bony’s goal as well.
Whenever Cardiff played from the back Swansea picked up Gary Medel and shut down the full-backs. When Caulker received the ball they pressed and allowed it to move on to Turner. They didn’t allow Turner to play back or into midfield and inevitably he hit a long ball forward that was easily dealt with or given away. This is another opposing team tactic that is killing us.
Defensively we need to return to our most solid unit. That would mean returning to Malky Mackay’s back four with Calla for Turner.
The other tactical change that failed hugely was the decision to press high and pressure the Swans. While the set-up may have worked and the idea may have been worthwhile, the whole strategy imploded when the first and closest defender consistently failed to close down the Swans player with the ball sufficiently well. Swansea players were challenged but the cushion between ball and defender was inevitably too great and the attacker with the ball had time to look up and find a pass – not what should have happened.
An what about the three Norwegians, none of whom saw action against Swansea? They may have been bought for the future but they are needed now. Eikrem must be better than Whittingham at the moment. Daehli should be more effective than Kim. Jordan Mutch needs to return and if we have a striker in Berget let’s get him into action sometime.
OGS knows the value of impact players from the bench and this is where Zaha and Daehli can surely make a difference, from the bench and probably not over 90 minutes. Zaha flits in and out of games and tired toward the end of the derby match. Kenwyne Jones is another impact player who will probably do his best work coming off the bench late in games.
Frazier Campbell is still our best forward playing through the middle but he needs more help. I thought Craig Bellamy was our best and most effective forward player against the Swans and he needs to play that free role or not at all. His defensive work-rate is better than anyone else and his game intelligence is definitely needed. While there is a temptation to play him wide, helping to protect the left-back, his days as a winger are gone.
Jordan Mutch has to play in the center of the midfield if only for his ambition and forward running.
The line-up against Aston Villa needs to be strong and uncompromising. Villa will sit and counter-attack so we will need to be patient and not get frustrated. The crowd will play an important role in this. If the crowd turns and begins to lose its belief then things could get ugly.
The team for Tuesday should be: Marshall; KTC, Caulker, Calla, Taylor; Medel, Eikrem, Mutch, Noone; Bellamy, Campbell. This will allow for Zaha, Daehli and Jones to be used as attacking substitutions if needed during the second half of play. A tiring Villa defence would not relish those substitutions.
As an interesting footnote to Tuesday, if none of the Norwegians are selected and they are regarded as players for the future, does that future represent 2014/15 in the Championship? I hope not, but maybe it does. For me and thousands of Cardiff fans, the future starts against Aston Villa on Tuesday.
By Ivor Castle, FanZone’s Cardiff City blogger. Follow @FanZone on Twitter