Cardiff followed up the disappointing performance at Stoke with an even worse one at Palace, going down 2-0 to their relegation rivals. In spite of Mackay’s post-match comments, Cardiff didn’t create chances and rarely threatened once Palace had taken an early lead. Having not scored in three matches, Cardiff face West Brom at the weekend, another team on a downward spiral, and really do need a win to give their form a kickstart.
Both of Palace’s wide players, Puncheon and Bannan (especially) tended to drift inside and Chamakh putting in a good performance supporting Jerome.
Cardiff started with Kim on the left flank in a failed attempt to give some attacking threat. Mutch and Whittingham returned as the midfield partnership ahead of the holding Medel. With Taylor still injured, Declan John was again given a start at left back.
The outcome of the game was determined after just 5 minutes. Whittingham fashioned an opening in the first minute and poked the ball wide to Cowie, whose cross from the right flank found Campbell between the centre back and right back. He headed down into the ground with a lot of the goal to aim at but Speroni pulled off a decent save. Shortly after the corner was cleared, Palace sustained some pressure in the Cardiff box and Puncheon found Jerome in the middle. He also headed into the ground and close to the keeper, but Marshall could not replicate Speroni’s save. Palace had an early lead that they would not lose.
The goal could have been stopped a number of times before it finally went in. Although Turner did well to recover from being the wrong side of Jerome when he was initially released, the Palace striker was quickly crowded out and Cardiff failed to clear far enough. Young left back Declan John was easily turned by Puncheon and at the moment of the turn, Turner has his eyes only on Jerome (indicated in the screen shot below with the black line). By the time Turner realises the ball is coming in and Jerome is on the move, he has lost his man. Jerome’s header was not particularly firm and bounced up close to Marshall – with the season he has had so far, he should have done better.
What is even more galling for the defence is that Jerome and Chamakh, as highlighted in the preview, are poor in the air. Over the course of the game, they won just six out of 25 aerial duels and Jerome won only two headers all day; stats that he can take with a wry smile when one of them is a goal.
With the pivotal moment coming so early, it’s hard to see what Palace changed to keep Cardiff out. But the early goal played into Pulis’ hands as the first thing he has done with Palace is instil a tight defence. Cardiff managed just two more shots from range in the first half as they either played balls to the flanks without managing to get crosses in or tried hopeful long passes through the middle that rarely paid off and were easily won by Gabbidon in the air. The graphic below shows their first half passes into the attacking third. Barely more than half (dark blue) are successful.
In the second half, Cardiff brought on Noone for Cowie in the hope of targeting Palace’s out of position left back, Ward, who had started on the right but moved over due to Moxey’s injury. Cardiff did have more possession in attacking areas in the second half and with a good enough player at number 10 might have been able to create more. Jedinak was not giving much protection in front of the back four, but Gabbidon and Delaney were comfortably clearing Cardiff’s central attacks. Cardiff’s wingplay, even against an unsettled full back, was mainly unsuccessful with just two of 14 second half crosses (most from Noone’s wing) finding a man in the middle. When they needed the ball in the middle, they could not make it stick.
With Cardiff unable to hold on to possession, Palace repeatedly hit back on the break. Medel advanced up the pitch as Cardiff chased the game and, unusually, made more attacking third passes than any other Cardiff player over the course of the game, which allowed space in front of Cardiff’s back four for Chamakh to hold up the ball. The win was eventually sealed with unmarked Chamakh’s strike from the edge of the area, having loitered in the zone between Cardiff’s defence and midfield without being picked up. Cardiff had allowed Palace space repeatedly and the home side may have been surprised at how easily they won the points.
As Cardiff lost 2-0 to a rival at the bottom end of the table, so did West Brom, going down 2-0 at home to Norwich. West Brom’s form is also dipping although they fell to a smash and grab raid from Norwich on this occasion. The Baggies were dominant with 26 shots in total as they chased an equaliser following an early goal (nearly half of their shots were on target), while Norwich managed just three on target. These were enough, however, to seal the win.
With Jonas Olsson suspended, Lugano had his first league start at centre back against Norwich. Olsson is likely to reclaim his place at the weekend. Yacob and Mulumbu as the two holding midfielders have given good cover in front of the West Brom defence and both tend to stay central so Cardiff may be encouraged to use two attack minded wide players to create chances (something Mackay has been loathe to do this season).
West Brom’s form does not necessarily match their performances, with just one win in the last nine games (the previous being the notable win at Old Trafford). Not only did they dominate this match in terms of chances, they were also close to ending Mourinho’s unbeaten home league run at Chelsea until a highly dubious last minute penalty awarded against them.
The difference between the West Brom of this season and last is stark – Romelu Lukaku. On loan last season, the Chelsea striker scored 17 league goals and finished as their top goalscorer, with more than double the number scored by Long (who played in more matches). While Clarke tried to replace Lukaku with a few different players, the problem is continuing – this season, only six goals have come from their strikers, all three of top-scoring Long’s coming in a 41 minute spell against Chelsea and Villa. Long was dropped for Victor Anichebe against Norwich (Anichebe having scored the late goal in the previous 2-3 defeat to Man City), with Anichebe then guilty for the most misses during the match, missing all six shots from inside the area and he certainly should have finished at least one of them. Indeed, West Brom’s shooting accuracy ratio of 16% over the season is the worst of all teams except Hull.
While Lukaku was finishing his chances, he was also having more. Last season, Lukaku averaged a touch every 2 minutes (similar to Anichebe this season) and had a chance every 26 minutes unlike Anichebe at every 37 minutes, the equivalent of one chance fewer per game. With fewer chances coming around and more of them being missed, it’s little wonder West Brom are, like Cardiff, struggling for goals.
Supporting the striker, Sessegnon was lively against Norwich but has also had a fairly unproductive season. His pass map is shown above and it can be seen that while he did not give the ball away often, he would usually choose to go sideways or backwards. Medel will likely be the player sticking close to Sessegnon and he will hope to consistently force Sessegnon away from danger.
Against Norwich, West Brom did the majority of their attacking on the right flank, with Billy Jones at right back receiving the ball more often than any other player but his crossing was poor, finding his man just once from eight attempts. Alongside Jones in the defence, West Brom field two older centre backs, Olsson and Macauley, who may find the pace of Campbell a handful. Norwich’s opening goal by Hooper came as he outpaced the pair from a simple through ball between them (and Hooper is by no means a quick player). However, they are as strong in the air as Cardiff’s pair – West Brom have allowed fewer headed attempts on goal than any other club this season.
In the two previous games against relegation rivals, Cardiff were guilty of hoping to keep the opposition out instead of going for the win. Those were away games where a point was a good result, but it is concerning that the attitude did not change against Palace, despite being behind for 85 minutes. Fans who would like to see Cardiff attack may be encouraged by Norwich’s win, where they played with two strikers (Elmander and Hooper) and a very attacking right winger in Redmond.
Whether Mackay does take the game to West Brom this weekend remains to be seen; if not, then Cardiff run the danger of seeing West Brom’s recent bad luck running out.
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