Steve Clarke could probably never have imagined how bad his trip to Cardiff would be. Although his team only went down 1-0, he was surprisingly sacked not long after the final whistle. The win for Cardiff takes them closer, in points, to the top half of the table than the relegation zone – for now, at least.
Cardiff played one of their season’s most attacking formations,4-1-3-2, as Mackay recognised the need to go for the win. Taylor returned at left back while Noone, on the right wing, was given his first Premier League start. Campbell and Odemwingie played as a front two, with Campbell frequently dropping deep.
West Brom recalled Olsson to the back four and used Yacob and Mulumbu to give some cover in front of the back four, with Mulumbu being allowed to push forward more than usual. Sessegnon, who did not wear his shooting boots, supported Long, who spent much of the match walking slowly back from an offside position.
Cardiff started the game well, showing intent to attack from the first whistle. They dominated the first 30 mins, completing around double the number of passes as WBA, but were restricted to shooting from range. Once the storm was weathered, WBA were able to get Mulumbu, their most potent force for transitioning the ball from defence to attack, involved more often but they still struggled to get into dangerous positions.
The table below shows the number of shots made by each side with the game broken up into three equal periods. Cardiff’s goal came at the start of the final third of the match – after this, West Brom had their most successful period of creating shots, but only Long’s header, wonderfully saved by Marshall, was on target.
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The impact of Craig Noone on Cardiff’s attacking play was something fans and management will have looked at closely to see if he could provide something of a solution to the recent impotence. He started the game brightly but faded considerably as the game went on. The two heat maps below show the first 30 minutes of the game (top) when he attempted seven passes and three crosses and the final 60 minutes of the game (bottom) with just two passes and five crosses attempted. One of these latter crosses led, of course, to Whittingham’s headed goal but, overall, the 90 minute performance did not do a great deal to dispel the theory that Noone is better as an impact player. The bottom heat map shows how he increasingly had to roam over the pitch in an effort to find the ball.
While he attempted to beat his man more times (six) than any other player, Noone was successful just twice. Compare that to Mutch’s four out of four and Odemwingie’s three out of four, and also consider that both players (and Whittingham) saw more of the ball in the attacking third than Noone, and his attacking qualities seem a little less reliable – although it certainly needs to be stressed that this was Noone’s first ever Premier League start and expectations should not be too high. The presence of an attack minded wide player is without doubt positive for Cardiff and it will be up to Noone over the rest of December, now that he has earned the chance of another start (perhaps not at Anfield), to prove that Cardiff should look to him and not elsewhere in the transfer window to provide this.
The front two
For the first time this season, Cardiff played with two strikers centrally, with Odemwingie as the more advanced and Campbell dropping back to find the ball. In general, Odemwingie was quite wasteful, perhaps showing too much desire to prove West Brom wrong for letting him go, and Campbell really struggled to get involved. The West Brom cover in front of the defence was fairly effective at minimising the contribution of Cardiff’s strikers, with Mulumbu (15) and Yacub (8) making more loose ball recoveries than anyone else. This shielded the defence and Cardiff were forced to make the majority of their shots (nearly two thirds) from outside the penalty area with none at all coming from within the six yard box. While Odemwingie saw far more of the ball than Campbell, he was frequently forced to send the ball to the wings rather than attack the defence head on. Campbell has the pace to attempt this and, with West Brom’s centre back pairing being a little slow, he should probably have been used as the spearhead of the attack. Odemwingie may be concerned that he did not really do enough to justify a start in the next game.
One striker vs two
While two strikers sounds, on paper, like an attacking formation, in reality Cardiff may have been better off by using an attacking midfielder like Kim or Mutch in Campbell’s position and playing Campbell as the advanced striker. Campbell’s instincts are to evade the defence rather than play through it and without space in front of him he found it hard to, firstly, receive the ball, and then use it effectively. Campbell and Odemwingie both have a game that is a little too similar to work in this system, and as Mackay appears to still be reluctant to start with Cornelius, who should complement either, Cardiff would probably do better to use a more creative (Kim) or driving (Mutch) player behind the striker, as long as attack minded players (like Noone or Bellamy) are also used on the flanks.
Next up for Cardiff is a trip to Anfield to play the other team who were the final straw for a club board’s patience with their manager this weekend, as Villas-Boas left Spurs following their 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool. No doubt Cardiff’s formation will revert to the more defensive lineup seen for most of the season in an attempt to contain the country’s most in form player (possibly in Europe), Suarez. Cardiffkickaball’s preview to the game later this week will take a look at how Liverpool have hit great heights lately.
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