Monthly Archives: October 2013

Cardiff and Swansea meet this weekend for the first time in the top division in what must be the biggest South Wales clash since the 1994 Welsh Cup final. Both teams come into the match on the back of 0-0 draws where the opposition managed more attempts on goal than the Welsh side. The league is tight enough at the moment that whoever wins will find themselves higher in the league, but Swansea are the established top division side with a reputation for possession football so it will be up to Cardiff to stop them playing. Swansea have a 0-0 with West Ham and a 4-0 win over Sunderland as their two previous matches, so this blog will take a look at what West Ham did right and what Sunderland did wrong.

Swansea lined up in both matches with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Britton as a deep playmaker rather than a defensive Medel-style player and Michu as a false 9, dropping deep and making late runs to evade his marker, although he has played as centre forward this season too. Michu always plays centrally but was kept quiet in both matches, not managing a shot on target.


Stopping Swansea

West Ham may have had far less ball than Swansea, making 185 successful passes to Swansea’s 484, but they made the most of the ball when they had it, counterattacking to create 15 attempts on goal (12 inside the area) more than Swansea’s 10 (6 inside). Before they got hold of it, they restricted the areas that Swansea were allowed into as shown in the two Swansea heat maps below, from the West Ham game (bottom) and the 4-0 win over Sunderland (top).


Sunderland had two midfielders (Cattermole and Gardner) in the centre, with Giaccherini playing far further forward alongside Fletcher up front. Swansea made a midfield diamond with either Routledge (from the left) or Dyer (from the right) coming inside to form it with Britton, de Guzman and Michu. This easily overpowered Sunderland’s central two to give Swansea the run of the central midfield. Sunderland could barely get out of their own half, making just 26 passes in the opposition final third to Swansea’s 118 – an incredible difference and once Sunderland finally conceded the first goal, the rest followed quickly.

West Ham used Noble and Nolan as the deeper lying midfielders, with Diame and Morrison in front; something not quite as excessive as the 4-6-0 that won at Spurs, but not far off it. By playing a defensive midfielder so far forward, West Ham were able to close down Swansea before they could start attacks. Diame’s match dashboard is below, and while he didn’t see much of the ball, his job was to disrupt Swansea’s buildup in their own half.


This is an extreme measure, yet West Ham still created more chances than Swansea by breaking quickly. Swansea’s closest opening was a well saved Chico header from a corner, which West Ham were quickly able to turn into a three-on-two break, only for Morrison to pull his chance wide. Mackay’s tactic of pulling all players back for a corner severely diminishes the chances of a similar breakaway, although Cardiff will probably play on the counterattack. The question is, how much territory Cardiff are willing to give up to Swansea?

High pressing

One of Bellamy’s best performances in his second spell at Cardiff came in a 3-0 win over Blackpool in September 2012. Playing as a second striker behind Helgusson, he used his pace to chase balls along the Blackpool back four, eventually forcing mistakes. Swansea have shown vulnerability there in the past and while it may not directly lead to chances, forcing Vorm to play it long gives Cardiff a better chance of winning the ball than tackles or interceptions in the middle of the pitch. It would be surprising to see Bellamy in this position again, but his workrate and speed make him a great player for closing down.

The passing maps below show how West Ham’s pressing (bottom) forced Swansea back to the goalkeeper far more often than Sunderland managed to.Swanseabackpasses

This is a key zone where Cardiff need to apply pressure as the options of the goalkeeper are always more restricted than outfielders. Applying pressure in the middle of the pitch means that a team can always pass backwards to the unmarked goalie, but marking up the goalkeeper’s passing options in the back four will force a long ball.

Vorm is currently third in terms of successful goalkeeper distribution this season, averaging 11 distributions a game and frequently choosing to play it short to the back four (particularly Rangel) . It can be seen in his distribution maps below from the two games (blue successful passes, red unsuccessful) that the best chance Cardiff have to regain the ball is to force Vorm to play it long.

Cardiff’s tactics

Mackay does have the pace in the squad to play a high pressing game, but pace is one thing that Whittingham on the left certainly doesn’t have. If he was to move into the middle, where he could control the game more, Cardiff could line up like this.


This gives three fast players in attack who can all pressurise Swansea in their own half when they have the ball. Mutch and Whittingham could restrict Swansea’s passing options in midfield and consequently starve the wide players of the ball. Swansea’s right flank is particularly potent, with Angel Rangel’s attacking intentions clearly indicated by his having received more passes in the opposition final third than any other player in both matches. This makes Bellamy more suited to cover that flank as he is keener to track back than Odemwingie. Rangel, Dyer and the right sided central midfielder (likely to be de Guzman) often overload the right flank, which would require Whittingham to move over to help out – Whittingham’s lack of pace vs de Guzman is a worry but less so than his lack of pace vs Dyer or Rangel in a more exposed area of the pitch. Dyer’s pace on the right could expose Taylor at left-back; another reason that Bellamy would be a better choice on that side.

Cardiff will need to avoid sitting back and inviting Swansea pressure on to them, as Michu’s movement and their propensity for throughballs will unquestionably lead to chances. Should Cowie be selected on the right, as he was against Chelsea, with Whittingham on the left, it doesn’t seem possible that Cardiff could avoid letting Swansea set up camp in the Cardiff half as Cowie will always cautiously withdraw backwards. By sucking Cardiff’s players infield and then quickly moving the ball to the wings, Swansea’s fast wingers would find getting behind their fullback a fairly simple task. Having slower players like Cowie and Whittingham wide also severely reduces the chance of a fast breakaway; exploiting the space left by Man City’s attacking players was key to the victory in August.

If Mackay neglects to use pace to pressurise Swansea in their own half, it will be a long match for Cardiff.

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Unsurprisingly, this lose at no costs match ended goalless, but not for the want of Norwich’s efforts. The game could have been decided with the last kick had Leroy Fer’s controversial goal stood. In the spirit of the game, the ref was right to disallow it, even if technically there was nothing wrong with it. 0-0 was a result that didn’t damage either team, even if it didn’t really help either.

Norwich lined up very similarly to their recent win at Stoke, with Hooper leading the line in front of Pilkington and Snodgrass, who both frequently cut inside. Tettey was the midfielder sitting deep to allow Fer and Howson to go forward.


Mackay answered a lot of fans’ requests by picking a more attacking lineup, with Kim and Mutch attempting to recreate their form at the tail end of the previous season as attacking midfielders.


Marshall, returning to his previous club Norwich after conceding 70 goals in his final season, had another inspired game as Norwich peppered the Cardiff goal. The Canaries managed 31 shots on goal, the most of any team in the league this season, although eight of those were blocked and a further 14 missed the target. Norwich’s shooting accuracy over the match was a miserable 29% on target and their status as joint lowest scorers in the division so far will be a worry to them.

Snodgrass’s influence

Snodgrass was a player who frustrated some Norwich fans on the day, yet he was the most likely Norwich player to cause danger. He created eight chances (although five were corners), twice as many as any other player, and had nearly twice as many touches in the opposition final third as any other player. Snodgrass’s low cross just before half-time was the closest Norwich came to scoring, eventually hitting the post following a series of deflections by the Cardiff defence and Marshall. But in the second half, Cardiff managed to keep a tighter rein on him as Whittingham doubled up with Taylor to mark him. Whittingham’s action areas below show how he moved from drifting into a central position in front of the penalty area in the first half (top) to the left flank in the second half (below).

whitt1st whitt2nd

Consequently, Snodgrass was forced to play in a less advanced position, as the map of passes received in the first half (top) and second half (below) shows.

snodgrass1st snodgrass2nd

Norwich’s midfield

Howson came close to scoring with two long shots in the first half which were well saved by Marshall, the second coming from Theophile-Catherine giving cheap possession away, something that happens too often. Howson’s long shots are an important part of Norwich’s attacking threat, but perhaps a little too important – with so many shots coming from range, they may have found better results by trying to fashion closer openings instead. His midfield partner, Fer, had another good shot cleared off the line by Whittingham. The combination of the two during the game was impressive and a world away from Cardiff’s impotent attacking midfield options.

In the second half, Mutch became the most forward of Cardiff’s midfield three as the disappointing Kim was replaced by Gunnarsson in the central role. Cowie took Odemwingie’s place on the right wing, until Medel was withdrawn for Bellamy – then Cowie dropped in front of the back four while Bellamy shuttled along the right flank. Kim was not able to provide much support for Campbell and it wasn’t a surprise to see Mackay make this change to attempt to keep Norwich out after a first half of one way traffic. Mutch’s change in position is illustrated with his first half heat map (top) and second half (bottom) below as he began to use the width of the pitch in the Norwich half rather than Cardiff’s.

mutch1st mutch2nd

Mutch’s moment in the opposition penalty box was Cardiff’s best chance of the match, when Campbell found his late run with a low pullback following an attack down the right (the side more than 60% of Cardiff’s attacks were made down). Mutch’s shot was well saved by Ruddy and Cardiff would not come as close again.

Cardiff’s half-time changes were successful as, for the first 30 minutes of the second half, Norwich were restricted to a handful of chances. The pass map below shows how Cardiff restricted Norwich to a zone 30 yards either side of the halfway line from the start of the second half up until the 72nd minute, when Hughton finally made changes.


These changes saw Elmander replace Hooper in attack and Redmond come on for Pilkington on the left wing. Redmond’s energy invigorated Norwich once more and he came close after a loose Mutch pass was intercepted. Richmond’s shot fizzed through the air but Marshall, once more, was equal to it. Shortly after, a Redmond cross was headed towards goal by Fer, only for Marshall to keep out the header and the ensuing scramble.

Controversial climax

Norwich’s kitchen sink pressure did not yield results and the final minute came, along with the most memorable action of the match. Tettey was floored by Campbell in the centre circle and fell holding his ankle. Marshall gathered the ball and cleared straight into touch to allow the Norwich physio on, although with just seconds on the clock, the physio declined to do so.

Or perhaps he wasn’t quick enough, as a visibly frustrated van Wolfswinkel immediately grabbed the ball and tried to throw it to Elmander, indicating at the gaping goal. Elmander refused to receive the ball, so it was thrown to Fer, who rolled it straight into the goal.

Fer would argue afterwards that he simply wanted to win the match and was simply doing what he would have done in the Dutch league, although this doesn’t fully explain why Elmander, who spent four seasons playing in Holland, did not want to roll the ball in – but Elmander has, of course, been in the UK a lot longer than Fer. The referee could perhaps have ruled the goal out for unsporting behaviour but in the end decided to say that he had not blown the whistle to restart the game; which is never required for a throw-in anyway.

Morally, the goal did need to be disallowed somehow. The returning of the ball to the opposition after being kicked out to aid a team-mate is an unwritten rule in the code of conduct for players. Personally, I don’t like it as it can, and often is, used as a method of disrupting the opposition’s rhythm. Nonetheless, it is currently understood by (nearly all) players and certainly shouldn’t be used to pickpocket a goal in the final minute, whether Norwich deserved the win or not.

Norwich will clearly be the more disappointed party following the match and they must be wondering if they can’t score in a game like this, how will they do so in tougher fixtures. As for Cardiff, a point will be welcome, but the ease at which they were carved open once more is a huge concern. While neither team can celebrate the point, Cardiff will look forward to the South Wales derby hoping, at least, for a similar defensive resolve.

Norwich come into the game on the back of two defeats to high-flying teams, losing 3-1 to Chelsea and then 4-1 to Arsenal, and Cardiff are also hoping to avoid a third successive defeat. Norwich are a point behind Cardiff in the relegation zone, but this was not how it was supposed to be for the Canaries. Their previous two seasons in the Premier League have seen them finish 11th and 12th and the intention was to improve to a top half finish this season. Results have seen some criticism of Chris Hughton’s style and lack of goals.

In both previous matches, Norwich lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Howson and Fer were the two central midfielders, but with Arsenal’s wide players, Cazorla and Wilshere, frequently coming inside, Snodgrass and Pilkington needed to follow them from the Norwich flanks. Consequently, the pair were fire-fighting as central midfielders themselves rather than being able to use the ball from wide positions- Cardiff know from his Leeds days that Snodgrass is a very dangerous player.  This coming weekend, Alexander Tettey can be expected to again sit in front of the back four to stay close to the opposition number 10. But Norwich won’t need to play quite so defensively against Cardiff, so it is more useful to look at their set up in the recent 1-0 win at Stoke, below.


The midfield three operated with Tettey in front of the back four as the defensive minded midfielder, Fer providing the energy box to box and Howson as the central playmaker, although Norwich would look to Snodgrass on the right flank as the real creative spark.

Norwich’s right flank

Overlapping fullback Russell Martin and Snodgrass worked together well on the right wing; the passing combination stats below show how heavily involved Martin was with most of Norwich’s play, while it can be seen in the passing maps beneath that Martin saw three times as much ball as Olsson at left back.


olsson martin

Although nearly half of Norwich’s attacks came down this right flank compared to just 30% on the left (Snodgrass and Martin had more touches in the final third than any other players) the goal came from the left wing. Norwich won two challenges from a defensive Stoke throw in and the ball fell to Howson, who hit a swerving shot from distance that Begovic should really have kept out. Norwich had earlier come very close to scoring by hitting the bar from a corner. That chance was the only successful cross of 15 attempted.

Striker problems

Part of the problem for Norwich here was that striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, the Dutchman who arrived in the summer for a club record fee, is not as physical as his 6ft 1 frame suggests, winning just one of his six aerial duels. He is racing to be fit for the weekend after missing the Arsenal match with a toe injury, but has struggled to make much of an impact in the Premier League. After scoring on his debut, he has incredibly managed just one more shot on target in six further matches. One more statistic that he will not enjoy is that he has committed more fouls than any other player in the division so far, with 22. For a player not particularly known for being physical, this is surprising and could be down to him trying, unsuccessfully, to add a physical side to his game. Norwich certainly seemed to be trying to use him as a Grant Holt figure, as the long passes map below shows. The unsuccessful red passes outnumber the successful blues by more than 2:1. Cardiff’s physical centreback pairing, including Ben Turner who was won more aerial duels than any other defender in the division except one, will relish this challenge.


Against Stoke, van Wolfswinkel was replaced by Johann Elmander but both have missed the last two matches. Hughton has spoken of his hope for Elmander’s return for the weekend too, though if they do both start together, it will require one of the midfield three to drop out. When they have started matches as a partnership this season, Elmander has been the deeper striker playing across the width of the pitch, with van Wolfswinkel receiving longer passes (again, strange considering his thin frame) and only venturing out to the right side. Their positions for passes received in the 1-0 win over Southampton are shown below, showing that neither really got into the penalty box.

elmandersoton wolfsoton

At the back

Defensively, Norwich acquitted themselves well in the Chelsea and Arsenal matches, despite the scorelines. They were holding Chelsea at 1-1 until Mourinho employed the three at the back Hail Mary that was also successful against Cardiff and they went into the final 10 minutes at the Emirates at just 2-1 down, having faced one of the best team performances of the league season so far during the second half. Tettey made the most interceptions of all players in both matches but his withdrawal against Arsenal for the attacking Hoolahan (similar to Medel’s withdrawal against Chelsea for Kim) allowed Arsenal the space to play some fantastic football.

In this respect, Norwich and Cardiff are quite similar; after the 2-0 defeat to Spurs, some Norwich fans were critical of Hughton’s unadventurous tactics – something that sounds similar to reactions after Cardiff’s defeat to Newcastle. Whether either team was correct to go for it in their visits to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge last weekend is up for debate. The chance of gaining a point whilst knowing that you might lose by three goals rather than one is probably worth it. Going gung-ho in this weekend’s match, leaving yourself open to a damaging counterattack and then seeing your rival whistle past in the league is less of an option.

While either team may try to come out of the blocks flying (in Cardiff’s case, they tend to do this in the second half)  the double jeopardy of defeat makes it seem unlikely that we will see an end-to-end 90 minutes. So far this season, both teams have seen more action coming in their own penalty box than at the other end as the stats below show.


Goals scored Shots taken Shots inside the box
Cardiff 8 84 41
Norwich 6 87 41


Goals conceded Shots taken Shots inside the box
Cardiff 13 143 77
Norwich 13 127 67

The numbers are very similar. While Cardiff have scored a couple more goals, Norwich have had three more shots from outside the box. Defensively, Norwich have allowed around two fewer shots against them per game, but both teams have around a 50-50 split of those shots being in or outside the box. This is a snapshot but indicates that the teams are fairly matched.

Cardiff’s selection

Cardiff’s team mainly writes itself, but there are three areas where there is selection debate – in attack, on the right wing and number 10. With Cornelius remaining a doubt, Odemwingie and Campbell will vie for the striker position. If Odemwingie is selected, which seems more likely as he offers a greater goal threat and a better all-round game than Campbell, that leaves Bellamy and Cowie to fight out the right wing. Cowie played against Chelsea to cope with Hazard’s threat but it would be a disappointingly negative of Mackay if Cowie were to start this match so Bellamy seems the more likely.

Which leaves the midfield trio. Mutch has certainly done enough lately to be given another start and Medel is the first name on the teamsheet. Gunnarsson and Kim fight out the last spot and in a game that has to be treated as winnable, it would be a bolder move (and probably a move appreciated by most fans) to see Kim taking the final spot. If Kim plays in the number 10 role, Mutch will provide the drive to transition from defence into attack – one of his key strengths. Mutch made a number of direct runs to cause Chelsea some worries last weekend which can open holes for speedy players (and Cardiff have a few with Bellamy, Odemwingie and Kim in attack) to exploit, as long as Mutch can pick out the right pass.

Last season, Cardiff used a midfield trio of Kim, Mutch and Gunnarsson at the tail end of the season which looked a class above the Championship. Gunnarsson, as the defensive midfielder in that setup, has been replaced by Medel; a clear potential improvement. With such tough tests to come in November, this match might be a good time to see if Kim and Mutch can still operate on the same wavelength. There have been issues with Cardiff’s wide players working on a different wavelength to the central players so far, not helped by the mismatch in styles between the creative left and speed-based right. Cardiff need to work on attacking as a team, rather than relying on one player breaking and then being supported by others. Having the ability to break quickly is no bad thing, but Cardiff have had few spells of good possession in the opponents half. Mutch and Kim in midfield give them the best chance to do so.

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Chelsea received a controversial three points against Cardiff but ultimately were deserving of their win. A 4-1 scoreline was a little flattering; if the goals that were the results of mistakes (either by goalkeeper, defender or referee) are discounted, then Chelsea would have won with a much more representative 2-0 scoreline.

For Chelsea, Willian was given a start on the right flank and Eto’o started as striker ahead of Torres and Ba. At left-back, Ashley Cole was unavailable so Ryan Bertrand started. Mata and Hazard swapped positions in the early stages of the match but went on to mainly stick to their respective number 10 and left sided forward roles. Willian on the other flank never really managed to get into the game.


As predicted last week, Mutch started instead of Kim which gave Cardiff more drive and athleticism in the centre of the field and played as the most attacking of the central midfield three. Cowie started on the right to give Theophile-Catherine some defensive assistance against Hazard that Odemwingie, the other right sided option, wouldn’t provide. Odemwingie started as lone striker instead of Campbell.


The opening two goals in the match could both have been avoided. Cardiff went a goal up when David Luiz managed to misjudge both the pace of the ball and the position of Cech as he far too nonchalantly let a Ramires backpass trundle past him. The ball was quickly followed by Jordon Mutch, who lifted the ball over Cech for the opening goal. Luiz has taken all of the blame, but Ramires (under pressure from Mutch) hit the ball too long for Luiz and too short for Cech. Cech then seemed to assume that Luiz would play it as he does not react until too late. Luiz undoubtedly could have taken the ball on himself to be safe but to blame him entirely is a little unfair – though it has to be said, he could have easily stopped the danger.

Chelsea’s equaliser has since come under even more scrutiny. Marshall had not long escaped a probable handball outside the area (though the punishment should only have been a yellow as there was a defender between Eto’o and the ball) when he bounced the ball too close to Eto’o, who knocked it away to Hazard. The pair then combined to put the ball in the net before a panicked Cardiff defence could properly get back. Had the referee or either of his assistants seen the incident properly, they would surely have disallowed the goal as goalkeepers are permitted to bounce the ball under their control without being tackled. It happened so fast that in real-time I had no idea what had happened and didn’t know for sure until seeing the replays the next day – but the speed of the incident is little consolation to Cardiff as it is the job of at least one of the officials to have their eye on the ball while it’s in play.

While they could have gone into half-time a goal up, Cardiff were the second best team of the first half. But they still managed to create a great chance to move 2-0 up when a Whittingham freekick was flicked goalwards by Odemwingie, only to be denied by a great Cech save. Terry had also come close with a header but Cardiff had mainly restricted Chelsea to the middle of the pitch and few chances in the opening 45 minutes as the heatmap of Chelsea touches below shows. Caulker had had a good first half, putting in a couple of excellent slide tackles. He couldn’t maintain that level throughout the game but was a key part in keeping Chelsea mainly at bay until half-time.


Cardiff started the second half looking a more attacking team and became even more attacking 10 minutes into the second half when Kim replaced Gary Medel. On the face of it, this was a bold move with a point still in Cardiff’s hands but in reality, Mackay had few other options on the bench. Of the six outfielders, one was a centreback, two were attacking midfielders and three were strikers. Cardiff already had their full complement of defence minded midfielders on the pitch and the only way to look was in attack. The only other option to replace Medel would have been for Campbell to come on, with Odemwingie moving to the right flank and Cowie to defensive midfield.

Kim took his place at the top of the midfield three, with Mutch and Gunnarsson moving to a double pivot in a similar vein to Ramires and Lampard. Kim stretched the Chelsea defence more than any other Cardiff individual other than Mutch had managed and there is certainly some potential in a Kim/Mutch/Medel midfield three in matches where Cardiff don’t expect to be up against it.

As Cardiff started to worry Chelsea, Mourinho made a bold move and switched to the three at the back that had previously turned the game vs Norwich. Again, the leftback was sacrificed with Torres coming on for Bertrand. Torres, still one of the ten most expensive players in history, never looked remotely like improving on his dismal Premier League record of one goal every six Chelsea games, but the move enabled Chelsea to overpower Cardiff in the middle of the pitch.

The second goal came from Cowie losing the ball in midfield while outnumbered, with the forward movement of Theophile-Catherine indicated below. The ball ran loose to Ramires (7) who drove right at Gunnarsson (17).


The pressure was now on Gunnarsson (below) to stop Ramires and it was just as well he was the correct side of Ramires as there were four Chelsea players waiting to run into the space left by T-C. Ramires was forced to play the ball to Torres on the right, who then stuttered, expecting a free kick, and was fortunate to even win a corner with a double-ricochet finally off Taylor.


The corner led to a second, which led to a clearance coming straight back to Hazard via Oscar. Hazard’s pass and Eto’o’s finish for the second goal were both excellent but the whole move had spawned from Chelsea’s overloading in the middle of the pitch within around a minute of the substitution.

Mourinho then changed back to a four man defence a few minutes later when Azpilicueta replaced Eto’o and Chelsea were able to apply steady pressure on Cardiff for the rest of the match. The impressive Oscar fired a great shot into the roof of the net and Hazard got his second with a low shot that Marshall should really have kept out. The second goal capped a man of the match performance for Hazard. Cowie had been selected to try and minimise his influence but the gulf in class between the two players was too great. Cowie won just one of his four attempted tackles and Hazard finished the match with four successful dribbles, twice that of any other player. He also had more passes and touches in the opposition half, final third and penalty box than any other player, as well as more goal attempts. Eto’o was Chelsea’s other standout player, but it was the Belgian who really shone.

A key part of Mourinho’s general strategy in the past is to build a siege mentality that the referees are against them and this was again put into effect over the weekend. This is a little harder to do when your side has been gifted a goal from a refereeing error but Mourinho sought to get into the officials’ bad books by encroaching on the pitch twice and then being sent from the bench after getting caught up in a dispute over an Ivanovic throw-in. Chelsea’s backroom staff later tried to argue that the referee had been telling Ivanovic to stop timewasting (and were critical of Cardiff’s timewasting during the match) but in fact the referee was asking Ivanovic to take the throw-in from the correct part of the pitch, which was about 40 yards closer to his own goal – a fact that has been missed in the match reports I’ve read, which have taken Chelsea’s comments at face value. It seems odd to question a referee’s competence with a straight face when that incompetence has got your team back into the match but Mourinho’s methods have never been conventional. This won’t be the last time that we see pantomime from Mourinho and it needs to be noted that Mackay behaved once more with great class. It would be interesting to have seen Mourinho’s reaction to Chelsea’s opening goal had it been scored by Cardiff.

Cardiff’s attacking performance was encouraging during a few spells and if they are able to recreate that at Norwich in the next match then a useful away win is not unthinkable. There is always the unknown quantity of an unobservant referee to consider but Cardiff will hope that they won’t be so unfortunate again. Marshall will certainly be required to put this nightmare day behind him.

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To say that Cardiff’s preparation for their first visit of the season to a Champions League regular has been overshadowed by the increasingly comical off-field developments is not strong enough – the shadow over the club is less a shadow than the dark side of the moon. Nonetheless, Cardiff board their bus to Stamford Bridge, recently the spiritual home of the sacking of backroom staff sackings, a little unsure whether the man behind the wheel will be the man coaching them next week. This blog was only ever intended to talk about tactics and not off-field politics but it’s certainly been a distraction to fans so who knows how the players and staff are coping this week.

(any visiting supporters who want to know a bit more about events – at least concerning what is now public knowledge – should visit or

Chelsea, under the command of Jose Mourinho again, have tightened up their defence so far this season at only a small expense to their attacking flamboyance. Only Southampton have conceded fewer goals and only Man City have allowed fewer shots against them. Somewhat surprisingly for a team castigated for letting Lukaku leave on loan and then sitting Mata on the bench, they are towards the top of the goalscoring charts and only Spurs have taken more attempts on goal. Their shot efficiency is somewhat midtable, with less than a third of shots on target (10th in the league) and a shot-to-goal ratio of 8% (lower than Cardiff’s 10%).


Mourinho has often used a 4-2-3-1 formation, as they did against Norwich (above) in the hope of getting the most out of the stunning array of attacking midfielders at the club and with Ramires and Lampard playing as the deep-lying midfielders in a double pivot. If the two players in this position are versatile enough, as Chelsea’s are, they can take it in turns to come forward. Against Norwich, they were the top two touchers of the ball, Lampard having 50 touches in the opposition half (the most of any player and 58% of all his touches) and Ramires not far behind on 42 touches (54% of his total touches). Comparing this with Cardiff’s most involved player of the previous game, defensive midfielder Gary Medel made just 28% of his 113 touches in the opposition half. His role in the partnership with Gunnarsson is more clearly defined as defensive.

This is one of Chelsea’s successes of the season so far; partly, because Lampard’s age requires him to take a more sedate role (he’s not making as many late runs into the box as he used to) but more thanks to Ramires’ individual improvement as a player. This season he is averaging 59 passes a game, up from 37 last season, which so far is more than any other Chelsea player, with a success rate of 88% (higher than Lampard’s 83%). And his involvement is not limited to rolling the ball around the middle of the park, only Hazard (14) has created more chances for Chelsea than Ramires (10). He is one of the less eye-catching players at Chelsea but this closer look reveals just how important he is.

The lone striker position looks to be filled by either Ba or Eto’o, with Torres still recovering from a knee injury. Chelsea mainly played long balls to Ba against Norwich, as can be seen from the graphic below representing the passes he received – the player who gave the ball to him most often was Cech with clearances bypassing the midfield. Norwich dealt with this with some ease and Caulker/Turner are both physical enough to cope – no defender in the Premier League has won more aerial battles this season than Ben Turner.

The hardest pattern of play to predict for Chelsea is the three attacking midfielders. They are allowed freedom to roam, as the graphic below from the Norwich match indicates – Oscar and Mata (though starting nominally right and centre respectively) both moved over the width of the pitch to become involved on the right as they are natural number 10s. Schurrle is a more disciplined player and stayed on his left flank. The movement of the front three is governed very directly by the players picked to start – it could be said that Schurrle is given free reign to stay disciplined as that is just the way he plays.


It was only after Eden Hazard came on for the injured Ashley Cole that Chelsea started to look in control and stretch Norwich. By now they were playing a very unusual 3-6-1 as they chased the win, with Willian coming on for Schurrle (but playing on the right) and Eto’o up front for Ba. Oscar, Mata and Hazard each predominantly played on the left side, which meant that Norwich’s defence had to shift over to avoid being overloaded; Willian having more space on the right flank as a result. Whoever Chelsea select in these positions will be a worry – Mata, Oscar and de Bruyne all scored in their midweek international matches with Schurrle scoring a hat-trick.

In their recent away win at Chelsea, Basel opted to mainly sit deep but the one player they targetted whilst pressing was Eden Hazard who, without receiving much support from his team-mates, became one of the many Chelsea players who put in poor performances. Chelsea’s struggle against the deep defence and counter attack, which Cardiff have employed frequently against quality opposition this season, will be encouraging for Malky Mackay.

To get anything from the game, Cardiff will again need their rearguard to put in the kind of performance that saw them concede just one goal over 180 minutes against Man City and Tottenham; although both then scored in injury time (it hardly needs to be said that Cardiff need to hold on that little bit longer) this does give some hope. No doubt, Cardiff will again set up with players behind the ball, which is not altogether shameful. There are Cardiff fans who would prefer to see a more expansive style, but one of the most impressive deep-then-break performances of recent seasons was by Chelsea themselves in the Nou Camp with the famous elimination of Barcelona (and then to a lesser extent in the final vs Bayern). Can the newcomers play the old hands at their own game?

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Inconsistent Newcastle brought Dr Jekyll to Cardiff and left with three points thanks to two brilliantly taken goals from Loic Remy.

Cardiff kept the same team that started in the win over Fulham, with two defensive minded wide players and Campbell hoping to get support from Kim (which didn’t really happen). After a poor first half, more of that later, Kim made way for Mutch who did a lot better in the position. Pardew had threatened to make changes after Newcastle’s previous abject performance and was good to his word, with Ben Arfa and Yanga-Mbiwa, two of the worst culprits, making way. The gifted playmaker Cabaye played in front of Tiote and Sissoko (who dropped further back on the pitch than he had against Everton). Cisse was the final change, taking the centreforward spot with Remy moving to the left of the front three.

The average positions for both Cardiff and Newcastle are below.



Remy settles the game

In the preview, I said the game would be won and lost on the flanks and that is where the opening goal came from. Remy’s first came after Theophile-Catherine had been caught out in attack. His attempted throughball was cut out and Sissoko played the ball into the gap vacated for Remy. Caulker had moved over but allowed Remy to cut inside where he met a hastily retreating T-C. He finished quite superbly from outside the area and, for the first time this season, Cardiff had to contend with an opposing striker in great form.

Remy’s second came seven minutes later after Newcastle had quickly moved the ball up the pitch from Coloccini to Cisse in just seven seconds, via a lovely outside of the boot pass from Cabaye after Medel had missed his tackle. Caulker was found guilty of watching his markee rather than his defensive line. As the image below shows, if he had kept his position, Cisse would have been forced to check his run and the move could have been slowed. Instead, Marshall could only parry the shot into Remy’s path and he collected his fifth goal in three games with a perfectly weighted low curl into the far corner.


Remy’s goals capped his disciplined performance. While Gouffran on the opposite flank saw a lot more of the ball, Remy used it far more efficiently, creating more chances and taking more attempts on goal. Remy was also putting a shift in defensively, unlike Gouffran who failed to put in a single tackle all game.

In mitigation for Gouffran’s tackling, half of Cardiff’s attacks came from the right flank on Remy’s side (28% in the middle and 22% on the left) which perhaps unwisely bucked the trend established by Hull and Everton in their previous wins by concentrating attacks down the left flank and targetting Debuchy. Cardiff only have pace on their right side, so this was probably more due to personnel than any design, but Remy was still happy to track back and help his fullback defensively, unlike the reluctant Ben Arfa at times this season.

Cardiff’s first half mistakes

The images below show Cardiff’s passing in the first half (top) and second half (below), with successful passes in blue and unsuccessful in red. The first half performance, in general, was littered with mistakes and pass completion in the first half was a disappointing 73% (dropping to just one in three successful passes in the attacking third and only a single successful pass received inside the penalty box). Whenever Cardiff tried to get into a dangerous position, Tiote was there. He attempted more tackles than any other player and also recovered the most loose balls. In fact, Newcastle dominated this particular statistic, recovering 60 loose balls to Cardiff’s 38. Cardiff improved their pass completion to over 80% in the second half which coincided with an upturn in performance and the introduction of Mutch for Kim at half-time.

cardifffirsthalfpassing cardiffsecondhalfpassing

Mutch gave Cardiff the physical presence and drive forward in midfield that Kim could not. That he played half a match and still had more touches in the final third than any other Cardiff player (except T-C) says everything about the change. Mutch’s attacking instincts saw him take players on in a direct as-the-crow-flies style that was seen nowhere else in a Cardiff shirt, except perhaps in bursts from Odemwingie. Within 5 minutes of coming on, he had created Cardiff’s best chance so far in the game with a cross from the right that had too much pace on for Whittingham to divert on target.

On 57 minutes, Cardiff’s higher tempo opened up the game on their left flank (where they should have been concentrating more efforts) and Gunnarsson won the ball against Williamson who had badly misjudged the bounce from a throw-in. Debuchy was even more isolated and Gunnarsson was given half of the Newcastle right to run into. As Newcastle’s defence shifted over (the back four indicated below with a line), Odemwingie was left by his marker, Santon, who went to challenge Mutch. A smart outside of the boot pass found Odemwingie who dummied the goalkeeper and passed into the net for his first Cardiff goal. It was well taken but nearly allowed Williamson the opportunity to clear from the goal-line.


Cardiff were by now enjoying their best period of the match and for the first time, the Newcastle fans were being drowned out. The second largest roar of the afternoon came when Cardiff successively pressed a handful of Newcastle players across the park until the ball was run out of touch for an attacking Cardiff throw-in. Shortly after, Bellamy replaced Campbell, with Odemwingie moving to centre forward, but the moment of superiority had passed. Gutierrez came on for Remy in response and Newcastle began to sit back and pack the midfield to keep Cardiff quiet and successfully close out the game. The sole remaining chance for Cardiff was a beautifully weighted ball from Whittingham finding Mutch behind the back four. Although his first touch with the chest was good, Krul came out quickly to make the block and Newcastle’s win was safe.

Future of the midfield

Last season, Kim, Mutch and Gunnarsson made an excellent midfield trio at the tail end of the season. Mutch has clearly earned his chance for a start in the Premier League and Medel’s quality is such that dropping him is unthinkable, so if he were to come in it would be at the expense of either Kim or Gunnarsson. The substitution of Kim at half-time suggests that he is more likely to go but we have seen that Kim and Mutch can work together (with Medel playing the deep role that Gunnarsson had last season). However, this would be a fairly bold move and Cardiff’s upcoming fixtures are probably too tricky to imagine Mackay taking risks. Mutch may make a start ahead of Kim for Chelsea away, giving Cardiff three tacklers in midfield. The following game, Norwich away, could be slightly more attack-minded.

Cardiff’s game was much like Newcastle’s last one at Everton – dreadful first half with not quite enough in the second to claw back a point. Both teams look as though they may ping-pong in this way, but Newcastle’s class in attack gives them more hope of safety this season. It would be a surprise if they end the season just five points above the relegation zone on 41 points as in 2012-13; this would still represent a successful finish for Cardiff.

Eight points down, 33 to go…

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Newcastle prepared for their visit to the Cardiff City Stadium with a very poor first half performance in the 3-2 defeat to Everton. Although they fought back from 3-0 down at half-time, too much damage had been done. Newcastle never got going as Everton had the ball in the net twice in the opening five minutes, although only once legally. While they won’t have to deal with a forward with such an impressive all-round game as Lukaku this Saturday, Cardiff will offer an exacting challenge of their own to the misfiring magpies.

On their last visit to Cardiff, in the Championship in early 2009-10, Newcastle were gathering steam and won the match 1-0. Cardiff managed fourteen shots on target to Newcastle’s two, but that early goal meant that the Geordies could sit back and collect the points (even after being reduced to 10 men). This time round, Cardiff are considered underdogs again but the match will possibly be seen as the easiest of their home games so far – though be warned, this says more for the calibre of the previous opponents than Newcastle themselves.

This season, Newcastle have mainly used a 4-3-3 with Cisse being flanked by Ben Arfa and Loic Remy up front and a narrow three man midfield featuring Anita as the deep midfielder, Cabaye as playmaker and Sissoko playing box-to-box. Against Everton, Pardew made some significant changes, lining up without the stuttering Cisse and the slightly groin-knackered Cabaye, as below.


What was perhaps intended to be a 4-3-3 didn’t really work in the first half, as Ben Arfa was ineffectual on his less favoured left side and Gouffran drifted frequently inside. Defensively, things weren’t much better.

For the opening goal, Santon missed his tackle against Mirallas, who advanced and pulled the ball back to Lukaku in the area – the retreating Coloccini was so desperate to atone for his own awkward header at the beginning of the move that he overtook Lukaku and didn’t realise he had lost the striker. Lukaku’s shot should also have been dealt with by Krul. Coloccini and his partner, Yanga-Mbiwa, then allowed a throughball to be played between them for the second, though they were not helped by any midfield protection in front of them. As the centrebacks and Krul then allowed a long punt from Howard to bounce twice for Everton’s third, the game was over. Everton even found time to have another goal disallowed before half-time.

Pardew’s half-time fixes were to introduce Cabaye for Ben Arfa, which saw Gouffran move over to the left wing, and, in defence, the more physical Williamson came on at half-time in a straight swap with the bewildered Yanga-Mbiwa. Sissoko moved to the right flank until the introduction of Cisse with 20 minutes to go, who then played on the right (Sissoko playing centrally again). Cabaye slotted into his favoured playmaker role with immediate success.

How much of Newcastle’s recovery to score two unanswered goals in the second half was down to the changes rather than Everton easing off is debatable. Newcastle certainly managed to take the ball into dangerous areas more often, having nine second half shots compared to just three from range in the first half (below, first half top and second half bottom). Cabaye’s goal in the 50th minute was a stunning piece of individualism, while Remy’s late goal was more the product of a switched off defence.



Ben Arfa’s poor performance on the left side and the marked improvement with Cabaye in the centre suggests that the two, Newcastle’s most important players creatively, will need to be used far better than they were on Monday. It’s likely that the former will be restored to the right side against Cardiff, where he has previously played so well, and the latter at the head of the midfield triangle. Sissoko, Anita and Tiote are all vying for the other two midfield spots. Sissoko and Gouffran could both be considered ahead of the out of form Cisse on the right. Remy’s recent goals should see him start as central striker.

Should Ben Arfa return to the right, we will see him often try to cut inside onto his left foot. Ben Arfa’s dashboard against Villa (where he scored the opener) is below; he rarely chose to pass to an overlapping fullback or cross from the byeline and his selfish nature is illustrated by taking 19 shots this season while creating only four chances. Two of those shots were the opening goals in both of Newcastle’s wins. Taylor (often seen as the weakest link in Cardiff back four) will need to be wary and force him to the touchline, which he tries to avoid, where possible. Whittingham should also be able to drop back to double up when Newcastle are on the ball, as happened against Spurs. Hull had a very disciplined and organised defence in their recent win away to Newcastle and, so far, this has been one of Cardiff’s strengths. If Taylor and Whittingham can keep Ben Arfa quiet, Medel can be trusted to restrict Cabaye’s ability to control the game or shoot from range and this should starve Cisse/Remy of decent chances in attack.


Debuchy and Santon are two attacking fullbacks, though they do not have the pace of the last two fullbacks to visit Cardiff (Walker and Naughton of Spurs) which should make Cardiff’s job of guarding the wings a little easier. The narrowness of the midfield three and the reluctance of the attacking wide players to drop back also gives Whittingham and Bellamy/Odemwingie (whoever starts), as Cardiff’s attacking wide players, hope that they can get enough ball and space to create chances. Campbell’s pace working the flanks in behind the fullback, should one of them get caught out too far up the pitch, could also be fruitful. Hull and Everton both targetted Debuchy in this way and Mackay will surely have spotted this weakness.

Campbell can also be expected to press the defence high up the pitch once more, at least early on, as he did against Spurs. Cardiff’s centrebacks should have an advantage in winning headers from Krul clearances – Cisse, Remy, Ben Arfa, Sissoko and Gouffran, Newcastle’s attacking players, won just three from twelve aerial duels against Everton – so Cardiff will want to force frequent backpasses to Krul.

This game could be won or lost on the flanks. Newcastle tend to leave gaps due to their peculiar combination of fullbacks who love to attack and wingers who hate to defend. The on-field relationship is very much one-way traffic, whereas Cardiff have developed two good combinations on both sides. Theophile-Catherine, in particular, has shown a real talent in coming forward and recovering his defensive position quickly (something Newcastle’s fullbacks, particularly Debuchy, don’t do) but Cardiff will need Kim and Gunnarsson to make runs into the area in support of Campbell in order to capitalise on chances created from wide positions. Both clubs will have fears of still being at the wrong end of the table in six months time; three points at the weekend will be the incentive for what could be an attacking match.

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