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After succumbing to a late goal against Spurs, this time Cardiff scored at the death to beat Fulham, leaving the Londoners looking back six months to their previous home league win.

Fulham have struggled to play a settled team this season and this continued with the loss of Scott Parker in the opening minutes. The graphics below represent the average positions of the players, with Karagounis (Parker’s replacement) included as he played the majority of the match. Berbatov supported Bent and the two wide players, Kacaniklic and Kasami, both cut inside which should have given Fulham’s two fullbacks the chance to overlap. Richardson did try to do this, although his crossing was never successful, but Riether on the right was pegged back by Cardiff’s effective leftsided players – more of this later. Both centrebacks tended to move wide, leaving Sidwell to drop into the gap although it was Karagounis who was more of a playmaker.

Fulhamlineup

The only change for Cardiff was Odemwingie replacing Bellamy on the right wing. This was not a surprise to see – Cardiff’s interest in the transfer market prior to Odemwingie’s signing was Tom Ince and Montero, both right wingers, so the signs pointed towards his use on that flank (although he can also perform a similar job to Campbell up front, as he did against Spurs). Bellamy has not offered a great deal so far this season and has been replaced in earlier games with the less attackminded Don Cowie. Odemwingie getting a start ahead of Cowie indicates that Mackay had identified Fulham as a team that could be beaten. The lineup was a little different to the 4-2-3-1 that Cardiff have used most often this season, with Gunnarsson pushing forward to make a 4-1-4-1.

cardifflineup

Gary Medel’s performance in front of the back four was exceptional, as he kept the ball moving expertly (missing just one pass in the whole match), made the most interceptions and won more tackles than anyone else. This security allowed Gunnarsson to play box-to-box, which is something he prefers to the solely defensive side that he has had to employ for most of the season so far. His decent scoring record shows that he likes to come forward and, although he didn’t score this time, he was very often in front of Kim (who has been Cardiff’s number 10).

For the first time this season, as alluded to above, Cardiff’s left side was just as attacking than the right, despite having comparatively little pace. The pairings of Whittingham/Taylor and Odemwingie/T-C both made 23 successful passes in the opposition final third and both created six chances each. T-C was more attackminded than Taylor, despite the contrary evidence of the average postions above, but he was also required to track back and defend more (Taylor did not attempt a single tackle). This is partly because Taylor’s opposite number, Kasami, frequently cut inside, and also due to the danger of Brian Ruiz (coming on in the 41st minute for Kacaniklic on T-C’s side) being Fulham’s most dangerous player. Taylor simply didn’t need to defend and could happily come forward as he pleased.

The Ruiz change allowed Berbatov to get more involved centrally than he had been, though it came at the cost of Bent’s involvement – he became increasingly peripheral. Ruiz’s equalising goal, a stunning curling left foot effort, came from a long clearance to the right flank finding Riether. Taylor had been sucked out of position, although Medel should perhaps have been tracking Ruiz’s run. That the goal was struck from outside the box was something telling for Fulham – only Kasami was able to consistently get any touches inside the box and was wasteful.

Cardiff also seemed wasteful in their shooting, although perhaps hasty is a better word. Their 22 attempts at goal, with 13 inside the area, sounds impressive, but looking at the accuracy (red, below, is off target) tells a better story. Unsurprisingly, just under half of chances were from set pieces, including Caulker’s opening goal. Gunnarsson again took up a position in front of the goalkeeper, though not close enough to risk a goal being disallowed for a foul as against Spurs, and Fulham allowed Caulker a relatively clear header.

cardiffshots
Mutch’s winner was similarly formed to Ruiz’s goal, with a clearance from the goalkeeper to the right flank not being dealt with by the defence. Mutch collected the ball from a wider angle than Ruiz had but found the same corner. Fulham had yet again lost the points.

Cardiff won this game through some relentless endeavour – although the stats governing possession, passes attempted, action zones, etc were very even, Cardiff were the team who wanted to have a go, which is evidenced in the only stat they dominate: number of shots. Mutch’s final minute effort, when Maynard had anticipated a throughball, epitomised this. Perhaps buoyed by Stockdale’s shaky performance against Chelsea, they tried to put the goalkeeper under pressure and eventually won out. In a short period of time in the division, Cardiff have already learnt how important three points are, and the signs are hopefully there that they’ll begin to push for wins rather than accept a point.

Graphics courtesy of:

http://sharemytactics.com/
http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone

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Fulham have had a tough start to the Premier League, with one win from their five matches so far against troubled Sunderland. Defeat to Arsenal and Chelsea may not have been unexpected but losing to Newcastle thanks to a late Ben Arfa wondergoal will have been disappointing. With Cardiff just a point ahead, a victory for either team will be a major boost.

Fulham have mainly used a 4-4-1-1 this season:

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Berbatov has played as a support striker in away games (red shirts below; behind Kasami and a very advanced Taraabt against Sunderland and Bent against Newcastle) and as the main striker at home (white shirts below; ahead of Ruiz against West Brom and Kasami/Taraabt against Arsenal). With this match taking place at Craven Cottage, Berbatov could well be used as the most advanced player. He hasn’t had a great season so far, but is still one of the Premier League’s great talents.

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Cardiff fans know all about the dangers of Taraabt from his QPR days, but Jol has shuffled his pack often this season and Taraabt has not started in the last three league matches. Sidwell and Parker offer more steel than creativity in the centre of midfield and Fulham concentrated their attacks in the last home match, 1-1 with West Brom, down the right flank.

fulhampasses

However, few crosses were put in; the chances created (light blue, above) came from both sides of the pitch and none were played deep into the box. Fulham were then very wasteful with their shots (red is off target, blue on target, yellow goal, below), hardly troubling the goalkeeper.

fulhamshots

Cardiff (41) and Fulham (42) are the two teams who have had the lowest number of goal attempts so far this season, so both might see this match as a chance to keep a clean sheet and snatch a goal. Poor goalkeeping from Stockdale led to Chelsea’s crucial opener last weekend, while Marshall had a stunning match vs Spurs, until the late goal. The two clubs are also both top of the chances conceded table, so the match has the makings of a new experience for the season – either by having a easy time defensively or an exciting time in attack. If a player with the obvious qualites of Berbatov, potentially the standout player on the pitch, is finally in good form, it could settle the match.

Defensively, Fulham did not press up the pitch as Cardiff did in their match vs Spurs. The contrast in styles are below (green for successful tackle, brown for unsuccessful). If Cardiff can get Whittingham and Kim in possession of the ball higher up the pitch than in previous games, their eye for a pass could be very useful in creating chances for Campbell or Odemwingie up front.

Fulhamtackles Cardifftackles

This game could come down to the team with the stronger defensive resolve. If the goalkeeping performances match what was seen last weekend, don’t be surprised to see Cardiff win. But in terms of attacking flair, Fulham have some players that are waiting to burst into life. It’s a game that has some serious potential for excitement that may still be dulled by the fear of defeat.

Graphics courtesy of:

http://sharemytactics.com/
http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone

An injury time Paulinho goal gave Spurs their win at the Cardiff City Stadium in an exciting match that could have had a lot more goals than that single strike. Marshall, in the Cardiff goal, pulled off a number of high quality saves, while Lloris, in the Spurs goal, survived an early outside of the box handball. While Cardiff created few chances, they were generally pretty good ones and Gunnarsson, in particular, missed a fantastic opening. Cardiff managed to keep Erikssen and Sigurdsson, the previous weekend’s star performers, fairly quiet, but Dembele and Townsend (with an overlapping Walker alongside him) were the standout players from a very good Spurs performance.

cardifflineup spurslineup

Both teams lined up with familiar 4-2-3-1 formations, with Dembele and Paulinho forming a midfield triangle with Erikssen (who often found himself advanced of a deep Soldado) and Sigurdsson cutting inside from the left. Townsend and Walker formed a particularly good partnership on the right flank, their natural pace exposing Cardiff’s slow left side and keeping Whittingham penned in.

Tottenham’s fullbacks were important to their style, with both having more touches than any other player but it was the right flank that brought more danger – Walker created the most chances (three) of all players (along with Erikssen and Sigurdsson). The graphics below show the positions that Townsend and Walker were in when they received passes in the second half, as Spurs pushed more forward more to find the winner. Townsend was substituted with ten minutes to go, but it can be seen that Walker frequently attacked beyond him.

townsendsecondhalf walkersecondhalf

Although Spurs had a good deal of possession in Cardiff’s final third, they actually found it a little trickier to create clearcut chances than their 29 goal attempts suggest. The graphic below shows the defensive blocks that Cardiff made, notably almost all being inside the penalty area but outside the six yard box, which illustrates just where Cardiff positioned their defence. Only half of Spurs’ shots were inside the penalty area and a further half of these were blocked – once shots threatened the goal, Marshall was on hand with some exceptional saves.

cardiffblocks

After a good debut against Hull, Theophile-Catherine again proved his worth to Cardiff as an attacking fullback, though as the game went on, tired legs (and not just his) meant that Cardiff were increasingly forced back and there was no opportunity to get forward – he hardly got out of his own half in the final 20 minutes. Gunnarsson, on the other hand, had a disappointing match defensively and was then guilty of missing Cardiff’s best opening – a trademark late run into the box ended with him skying a free chance. This shot, along with Campbell’s one-on-one that resulted in a dubious potential handball from Lloris (which could have been a goal had Campbell’s first touch been a little tighter), were arguably better chances than any that Spurs created before Paulinho’s goal. It is a little easier to create a good chance when there is so much space left by an opposition that is racing forward to attack but missed chances are all the more galling when they are both scorable and rare.

Cardif don’t have too much pace in midfield and defence, but it is vital to have Campbell’s (and later Odemwingie’s) pace to not only maximise counterattacks, but also to pressurise the opposition back four in possession. This is what lead to Campbell’s 6th minute one-on-one but Cardiff were only able to press Spurs high up the pitch in the early stages of the match. Dembele and Paulinho both came deep in the first half to find the ball but by the second half were performing the same roles in Cardiff’s half. Paulinho’s positions when receiving passes in the first half and second half are below; he went from receiving eleven passes in his own half in the first 45 minutes to just three in the second. Similarly, Dembele went from nine first half passes to four.

paulinhofirst paulinhosecond

A 1-0 defeat to Spurs is no disaster for Cardiff. While a point would have been celebrated wildly, this is a Spurs team that could conceivably win the title this season. I mentioned in the preview that Dembele and Paulinho are more than good enough to play in front of the back four against the likes of Cardiff but there was a point in the second half when Kim’s trickery nearly got him clear of the midfield (only a slightly cynical yellow-card-earning foul from Dawson stopped him); I would expect a better midfield than Cardiff’s to expose this pair more often. If Capoue can stay fit and adapt to the Premier League as well as Medel has (imagine him in the Spurs midfield), then they really are worth a little punt to be champions.

Graphics courtesy of:

http://sharemytactics.com/
http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone

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Cardiff’s third home game of the season sees the arrival of another big club finding its feet. Man City and Everton came with new managers, while Spurs are in the early stages of incorporating big money signings to the team to replace Cardiff-born Gareth Bale. Perhaps Cardiff can take advantage of playing Spurs so soon after the transfer window’s closure and what seemed a tough baptism might be a blessing. We’ll take a look at how Spurs are currently shaping up.

Tottenham have invested heavily over the summer and their team has plenty of new signings still to gel but, although the Europa League is now beginning to cause havoc amongst some squads, the lineup at the weekend shouldn’t have too many surprises. Spurs have fielded a settled back four in front of Lloris, with Paulinho and Dembele positioned in front, now that one-time Cardiff target Etienne Capoue is out with an ankle injury. In attack, Soldado will start as a lone striker but the three players behind him are the most open to debate.

spursvnorwich

The comfortable 2-0 win over Norwich last weekend gave Spurs their third win and third clean sheet of the league season (to take them to, where else, third place), not to mention their first goals from open play. Spurs lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the fullbacks having much license to attack and Eriksen closely supporting Soldado. They pushed Norwich back for the whole match, taking 23 shots to Norwich’s 5, in a strangely symmetrical formation. The graphic above is laid out by average position and it is unusual to see the ‘banks of four’ (to slightly misuse a phrase that is in vogue) so clearly displayed, which suggests both that Spurs are more well-drilled than might be expected for a team with such flamboyance (although any team that keeps clean sheets more often than not must have tactical discipline) and that they trust their teammate’s ability to give them the ball without needing to go looking for it.

What makes Dembele and Paulinho interesting for their roles is that neither is primarily known to be defensive. Spurs can use this to good advantage in matches such as Norwich at home, where they are expected to dominate possession, as both enjoy stretching their legs coming forward  – and it doesn’t matter too much if his midfield partner doesn’t fill in the gap as the opposition are usually too penned in to counter. This extravagance might eventually become a problem against the better sides should Spurs still lack a proper defensive midfielder, but they are unlikely to permit Cardiff the possession to hurt in this way. Kim, if he plays his usual role of central attacking midfield, will need to pounce on any chances to initiate a counterattack to leave the Spurs centrebacks exposed – pace out wide, into the space left by the attacking Spurs fullbacks, will also be necessary. This is something that Bellamy can offer on the right wing, but Whittingham will not on the left. We might see Campbell use the flanks more often to take advantage of this space on counterattacks.

Eriksen, the debutant Dane, had an excellent match but the goals came from a talented player who had not been able to win a regular starting place during the previous season, Gylfi Sigurdsson. He frequently came inside, all four of his shots coming centrally, with Rose overlapping to tie up the Norwich fullback and creating the gap for him to dart through. This is illustrated well by his run indicated below for the first goal; the two Norwich players on the bottom left of the image have both gone over to deal with Rose and left too large a gap, which Sigurdsson exploits thanks to Eriksen’s clever short pass.

sigurdssongoal

On the right flank, Andros Townsend played very well, having more than twice as many shots  and more touches in the final third as any other player on the pitch, but the end product was not there and it would not be a surprise to see another new signing, Lamela, starting in his place – the goalscoring Sigurdsson and lively Eriksen surely having done enough to have another start. After Eriksen went off in the 70th minute, his replacement Holtby dominated the centre left zone of the pitch which forced Sigurdsson to hug the left touchline. By then, the game was pretty much wrapped up in Tottenham’s favour and Spurs did not manage any more shots in the area once Eriksen had been replaced.

Eriksen’s passes in the attacking third are shown below, and it can be seen that he covered a lot of ground outside the penalty box, but favoured movement to the right flank. This gave Sigurdsson space to cause problems centrally and also restricted Townsend to the right touchline (which, as a more natural wideman than Sigurdsson, suited him).

erikssenpasses

Gary Medel will need to stay close to the player selected in the centre of Tottenham’s attacking three (which may be Eriksen) to prevent the incisive passing that has lead to many of Spurs’ chances this season. Cardiff’s best chance of success will, once more, be to keep Spurs at bay for as long as possible – not an unusual tactic for a team who are yet to strike first in a league match. Spurs’ impressive attacking players will surely do well this season, but Cardiff will hope that this game comes before they really get going.

Graphics courtesy of:

http://sharemytactics.com/
http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone

Hull and Cardiff both avoided a costly defeat at the weekend in the season’s first clash between two promoted teams. Hull can count themselves more unlucky not to win, but neither can be disappointed with a point. The only surprise in either lineup was Don Cowie replacing the injured Craig Bellamy on Cardiff’s right wing. New signing Peter Odemwingie would have seemed a more like-for-like replacement, but perhaps his lack of match practice in 2013 means he is not ready to start yet. I’ll look a bit more closely at Cowie’s performance later on.

HulllineupCardifflineup

The main talking point had been the availability of the goalkeepers, with both teams having a Scottish international with a knock. McGregor made it on to the pitch for Hull, but Marshall was not quite ready and the tall Joe Lewis made his first league start for the Bluebirds. He was the busier of the two goalkeepers, pulling off four saves to McGregor’s one and punching clear four times to McGregor’s two.

Following a burst from Livermore, Lewis pulled off a good stop from Aluko but only parried to Graham. Perhaps the difference in quality between Marshall and Lewis was illustrated most clearly here as Marshall would likely have got up to attempt to block Graham’s shot. Lewis was not able to react fast enough but watched Graham sky the ball with the goal gaping.

As the still below shows, Graham managed to stay onside but with six outfield players in a band along the penalty spot, it is disappointing that a block was not made on either the initial or follow up shots.

aluko chance

Cardiff’s debutant fullback

Theophile-Catherine gave Cardiff something they have lacked for a good few seasons with some excellent attacking fullback play. His strong run in the 16th minute under pressure from two Hull players led to Kim going to the ground in the area under a challenge. Chester appeared to have stood on Kim’s foot but the contact was minimal and the referee was correct to allow play to go on – TV pundits may have made up their own rule to the contrary in recent years, but contact in the penalty box does not always mean a penalty.

The fullback’s presence up and down the wing enabled Cowie to move inside and give support to Campbell. Perhaps Mackay chose the more defensively disciplined Cowie rather than Odemwingie on the right wing to give some protection for the fullback on his debut but he gave a very comfortable performance and the thought of the Frenchman supporting Bellamy on the flank in future games seems positive. Indeed, a second half attack saw T-C skip past a defender and place his cross on Gunnarsson’s head, although the Icelander put his free header wide.

Hull City taking control

It is to Theophile-Catherine’s credit that he was able to give attacking threat whilst being able to quite successfully defend his corner of the pitch- in fact, around half of all the passes made on Cardiff’s right flank in the Hull half were made by T-C. However, he was dragged away from his flank later in the first half and missed a challenge in the centre circle which allowed Aluko to run into space. He chose to shoot rather than centre and missed, but it was the beginning of Hull’s ascendancy in the match. In future matches, the three other members of Cardiff’s back four must be wily enough to move across to fill in the gap vacated by T-C’s attacks, as it would be an opportunity missed if he was asked to curtail his ventures forward in order to maintain defensive strength.

Hull’s dominance culminated in a corner from Hull’s left being punched to the right wing, with Huddlestone’s dangerous cross bouncing in the area before Curtis Davies headed in for the opening goal. The Cardiff defence had already begun pushing out and were unable to turn in time to stop the ball reaching Davies – in fairness, Davies (circled in the screenshots below) was the only player on both sides to anticipate the cross, while Caulker should probably have cut the ball out before the bounce.

davies goal davies goal2

Cardiff’s fightback

Cardiff’s equaliser came from a familiar source – the left foot of Peter Whittingham. I have spoken before in these blogs of his withdrawn roles, last season as a central midfielder foraging for the ball amongst the centrebacks and this season being forced to defend his flank, but his blindside run behind Elmohamady’s back, who does not take his eye from the ball and has no idea Whittingham is there, and cool volley were reminiscent of the attacking midfielder of old. The move itself was a smooth counterattack, with Maynard having found space to receive Caulker’s pass from inside his own half and then releasing Cowie on the right flank. His cross curled perfectly into Whittingham’s path, and what was even more remarkable about the move was that each of these progressions was with the first touch – it shows an excellent awareness of team-mate positioning and pre-determination of what to do with the ball with the passes being played into the path of the runner. Cardiff fans would like to see more of the same attempted.

Cowie’s performance was quite impressive considering this was his first league start and he found himself moving over the entire width of the pitch, unlike Whittingham who restricted himself mainly to the left flank. At times, Cowie was the most advanced Cardiff player and he managed more penalty box touches than any other player on the pitch except Danny Graham.

Cardiff’s second half tweak

In the second half, Maynard replaced Kim which saw roles reversed. Cowie kept to the right flank while Whittingham started to roam more often. The images below show Cowie’s position while he made his passes in the first half and then the second.

Cowiefirsthalf

Cowiesecondhalf

Maynard stayed close to Cowie while Campbell’s involvement reduced severely. Maynard has not had much of a chance to make an impact this season, the miss against West Ham is his most memorable contribution, but he put in a more impressive performance than Gestede from the bench.

Despite looking lively, Cowie didn’t manage an attempt on goal, but Gunnarsson and Whittingham offered real threat from midfield with seven attempts between them. Cardiff’s midfield pair of Gunnarsson and Medel had a close battle for supremacy with Livermore and Huddlestone, misplacing 8 of their 111 attempted passes compared to the Hull pair’s 20 of 104. They also made 7 interceptions to Hull’s 3 but just 6 recoveries to Hull’s 12. Despite this, Hull were far more efficient at creating chances with the ball, a lot of which came down to Elmohamady’s excellent attacking capabilities -he alone crossed the ball twice as much as any other player.

Perhaps this is not too surprising, with Hull being the home team and having more responsibility to go for the win than the away team, but it will surely give the Tigers hope for their home form. However, as stated in the match preview, they will still have concerns of where the goals will come from. They should have a few more to their name already this season, Graham’s miss in this match one of a handful of chances that need to be taken at this level, so they’re not doing too much wrong but chances have to be taken and playing a rival without their first team goalkeeper is a golden opportunity missed.

In fact, both clubs will surely be delighted at the points attained so far in a tough opening run of fixtures. This match will have been the first one each had highlighted as a plausible win and while neither managed it, both have already got the tricky first win under their belts and must feel they have a good chance of avoiding relegation.

Graphics courtesy of:

http://sharemytactics.com/
http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone

This Saturday, Hull and Cardiff meet in what will be enthusiastically billed by those with a slim grasp of maths as the first relegation six pointer of the season. Hull have picked up three points so far this season, having beaten Norwich 1-0 at home and been beaten 2-0 away to both Chelsea and Man City. We’ll overlook those defeats and analyse the Norwich match most closely, as this is most likely to give clues as to the way they’ll play against Cardiff.

Steve Bruce used a 3-5-2 formation frequently last season in the Championship, commenting that it was to get the best out of the squad he had (Robert Koren, as his most creative player, in particular). However, for the final match of the season, a draw with the new champions Cardiff which was enough for Hull to also go up automatically, he chose a 4-4-1-1 formation and this is what Hull have stuck to in the Premier League so far. This is not much of a surprise, given the below quote from an April interview:

“In the Premier League there is a gulf between clubs like Manchester United, City and the rest, where you’re always just fighting to stay up. You have to make your team difficult to beat. But the Championship is much of a muchness so we thought: ‘Can we do something a bit different?’ I’ve enjoyed it because it’s an even playing field.”

Goals were still tough for Hull to come by, having the lowest home tally of any top eight Championship club, and their sole league goal this season has come from a penalty. They were certainly unlucky not to open the scoring against Man City – this is not a completely toothless team, although one that would have been strengthened in attack had Shane Long managed to complete his transfer (perhaps they have dodged a bullet, given his recent injury). But that attempted transfer underlines that Bruce knows his team need to offer more in attack to stay up.

Against Norwich, Hull used a 4-4-1-1 and lined up as below:

hullvnorwich

Defensively, the return of Alan McGregor in goal, having missed the internationals for Scotland, will be a real boon. His replacement in the Scotland team, Cardiff keeper David Marshall, was taken off at halftime with a hip injury and is a doubt. This might prove to be the difference between the teams. Centre back Abdoulaye Faye, who has not played a minute so far this season, may return for the match. As revealed in the interview above, Bruce used a 3-5-2 last season as he thought Faye’s lack of pace could leave the defence exposed. Should Faye make a start (and assuming Bruce does not then revert to three at the back, which seems unlikely that he would) then Fraizer Campbell’s speed is a very useful weapon for Cardiff. It seems more probable that Bruce will keep the same back four with Davies and Chester as centrebacks. The two fullbacks are naturally attackminded, Elmohamedy having being used as a winger for Sunderland and Figueroa as an occasional wingback for Wigan.

Livermore and Huddlestone are the midfield tigers (yes, I had to use that phrase somewhere), but neither are known for their presence despite their height, and the comparatively diminutive Medel and Gunnarsson will probably have the upper hand if things turn physical – which it might have to if Cardiff are to stop the pair using the ball.

Against Norwich, Koren, on the right flank, and forwards Sagbo and Aluko worked closely together, leaving Brady on the left flank more isolated. The graphic below shows the attacking passes made by Hull that day (blue successful, red unsuccessful).

hullpassesnorwich

Although they struggled to get the ball into the area, the concentration of passes to the right flank is clear. This could leave Whittingham with another tracking back role on Cardiff’s left. Sagbo will be suspended for this match following his sending off, so Aluko (if fit) should start, playing behind Graham – both, particularly Aluko, were unfortunate not to score vs Man City.

Hull have had the fewest attempts on goal of all teams in the Premier League so far, but given their opponents it is unfair to look too closely at that. The shooting accuracy vs Norwich was certainly poor; other than the goal from the penalty spot, only a shot from range found the target.

hullshotsnorwich

This is why Bruce was interested in Long, but Danny Graham does have some Premier League scoring pedigree. The three strikers have managed just one shot on target between them over the three matches – if Marshall is out of the match, Cardiff must hope that Hull continue to be wayward.

Either team could lose this encounter and come out the other side still in a safe enough position – but neither will want to and because of that, all signs point towards a nervous encounter. A bad result would put even more pressure on the next six pointer.

Graphics courtesy of:

http://sharemytactics.com/
http://www.fourfourtwo.com/statszone

Creativity has been hard to come by for Cardiff so far this season. It is early days, but the three matches so far have consisted of two eventually fruitful backs against the walls performances and one match where Cardiff were allowed the ball but not allowed to do much with it (the defeat to West Ham). As it’s a quiet international week, I thought I would use the downtime to take a closer look at the two players whom have had the ball in the opposition half more than anyone else in the Cardiff squad so far and whom Cardiff will (sooner rather than later, hopefully) rely on to create chances – Peter Whittingham and Kim Bo-Kyung.

Whittingham is Cardiff’s longest serving regular player, starting his seventh season with the club. After a slow start to find his feet, he came into his own during 2009-10 when 20 goals from midfield (plus another two in the playoffs) left him top of the Championship’s scoring chart (ahead of a list of players that have since proved themselves in the Premier League  – Adam, Carroll, Nolan and Sigurdsson). The following three seasons brought another 30 league goals and his eventual winning over of the fans – a number had been critical of his laziness, but there can be no doubt that his workrate during matches improved exponentially over the seasons following his goal glut. In this time, he became without question Cardiff’s most important player but the opposition were learning something that West Ham put into devastating effect in the 2012 playoffs – stop Whittingham and you stop Cardiff. West Ham knocked Cardiff out 5-0 on aggregate.

During 2012-13, Whittingham started playing increasingly deeper in attempts to get hold of the ball away from the interest of his marker, all of which severely compromised his ability to create. By dropping back, the opposition could mark up all of Whittingham’s attacking passing options and often leave him with little choice but to move the ball wide to a fullback. His individual performance quality dropped despite the team climbing to the top of the table, and, following a 2-1 defeat to relegation threatened Peterborough, manager Malky Mackay did something unheard of for a few seasons…Peter Whittingham was dropped to the bench.

The fall of Whittingham coincided neatly with the rise of Kim. The South Korean international arrived at Cardiff shortly before winning a London 2012 bronze medal and was used sparingly by Mackay, despite putting in some increasingly confident performances. As he adjusted to the division, Kim’s skilful feet and close control led him to become something that is quite a rarity in any division- a player who can clearly be seen as a class above the opposition and his teammates. However, it was April before Mackay finally saw enough to give Kim a regular run of starts. Forming an impressive midfield trio with Gunnarson and Mutch, Kim played a big part in carrying Cardiff over the line to promotion at the head of the midfield triangle. There seems little reason to think that Whittingham himself could not have filled this role, and it has never been established whether Whittingham dropped deep under manager instructions or his own instinct to find the ball. Whatever the case, it was Kim who had now become the Cardiff player most likely to scare the opposition.

Now, Mackay is attempting to use the two midfielders in the same lineup and faces the challenge of getting the most out of both. This may not be as difficult to do as it looked like being in the Championship – to put the two in what are probably unfair nutshells, Whittingham is a passer and Kim is a runner. Accordingly, Whittingham has been positioned further back than Kim, not unexpected given the way they both played last season, but in a different role. Instead of being the quarterback (to use an ugly phrase coming into vogue), Whittingham has been a defensive minded left sided midfielder. Although an average position map would show the two pretty much along the halfway line, the graphics below are more telling as they show from where the two players made clearances vs Everton. Whittingham’s job was quite clearly more defensive.

whittclearances kimclearances

Despite playing from deep, Whittingham has so far been the most likely player to create a chance. He has seven open play chances to his name so far from all over the pitch; one deep from the right, two from the centre, two from the left flank and one inside the area. West Ham has turned out to be his most creative game (over half coming in that match alone), despite Cardiff looking so toothless in attack. This is because West Ham were happy to allow Cardiff and Whittingham have the ball, having taken an early lead themselves. They could then simply keep players in their own half to limit the damage, which turned out to be minimal. Whittingham created chances but none were clear cut, except the chance created in the area (this was surprisingly missed by Maynard but was from a scuffed Whittingham shot anyway).

Whittingham’s only assist this season came from a corner and, while Kim also is without an assist, the equalising goal against Man City came from the South Korean’s darting run down the right, with a smart pullback reaching Campbell (his shot was saved into the path of goalscorer Gunnarsson). A similar run on the left flank against Everton at the start of the second half culminated in a pullback that this time ran behind the two incoming Cardiff forwards. I would expect Kim to increase these bursts as the season goes on, but perhaps not too much – his awareness of teammates and opposition on the pitch is excellent and he appears to only try things when he is sure of success. He is perhaps not as flamboyant and unpredictable as it seems; a pass success rate of 86% to Whittingham’s 79% suggests that he cautiously picks the safest route and this is perhaps borne out by the shorter nature of his passes vs Everton compared to Whittingham’s (below).

kimpasseseverton whittpasseseverton
Set piece delivery is, of course, part of Whittingham’s expertise. His accurate corners to the far post caused many Championship defences problems – indeed, he troubled Howard in the Everton match by nearly swinging one straight in. In contrast, Kim often found it difficult to beat the first man when trusted with corners last season. Perhaps this is why Kim is yet to take a corner this season, with Cowie and Bellamy being the preferred right foot options so far. If there is one certainty, it is that Whittingham’s dangerous corners will continue to be a major goal threat.

Whittingham’s future role in the team would appear to depend on how Cardiff attack matches over the rest of the season. The emphasis has so far been on avoiding defeat, and it may continue that way over the next few fixtures at least. But this is unlikely to be successful enough in the long run and Cardiff won’t always be able to rely on space being available to threaten teams on the break with a Whittingham deep pass. After all, there are a number of clubs in the bottom half of the table who will be happy to take a draw at the Cardiff City Stadium (though worryingly few such sides in the opening months of the season). When these teams do arrive, Cardiff will probably need to employ a more cutting presence on the left side than Whittingham currently gives. Perhaps a swap with Kim might work, with Kim taking a more attacking role on the right and Whittingham dropping back a little from where Kim has been positioned in the centre. More worrying is the thought that Whittingham may find himself again playing the quarterback.

For now, Mackay seems likely to stick with the team that has won some unexpected points. The importance of the two creative players is going to be critical in converting draws to wins.