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Eight games is enough of a sample size for us to properly dive into Cardiff City and how this completely new-look side are doing.
The Championship table will tell you that the Bluebirds are down in 22nd position and are currently enduring a streak of five matches without a win. But that, perhaps, doesn’t tell the whole story.
They are just five points off fifth place and will perhaps feel they should be closer to that end of the table, but their lack of goals has really hindered them in the early portion of the season. You can read more about that here.
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Because, by most other metrics, Cardiff are almost unrecognisable from the turgid, vapid football they were playing a year ago. Think back to how they started last year, not just the results but the manner in which they have played, and the turnaround is remarkable.
It’s easy to be bogged down by league position and a small run of frustrating results, but it is also a useful exercise to try to look past all that and see the wood from the trees in hope of more positive outcomes in the not-too-distant future.
Now, statistics are not for everyone, and games are not won on paper, but at this stage of the season, it is useful to look at how Cardiff are trending in some other important metrics compared to their Championship rivals. It does actually make for some interesting reading.
All things considered, it shows that the Bluebirds really aren’t that far away from getting it right…
Possession – It might shock you to learn that only four teams (Burnley, Norwich City, Swansea City and West Brom) have enjoyed more average possession per game than Cardiff City (55 percent) this season. There is a simple riposte to this, of course, “Possession means nothing if you can’t put the ball in the back of the net.” That is true, but what is also true is that you cannot score if you don’t have the ball.
Cardiff’s change of style has seen the players become more emboldened and comfortable with the ball at their feet and it is undeniably a positive that they are enjoying so much more possession than previous incarnations of this team in seasons gone by. It’s an encouraging start, at least.
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Intent – So, what do Cardiff do with the football? Well, in the recent past, the plan generally was to hit teams on the break and catch them unawares. Failing that, it was to win set pieces and kill them in the air. It was all pretty drab, if effective. And there is perhaps merit in some supporters wanting a better balance of having that brawn in the squad.
However, Cardiff have recruited some flair players. Players who want to attack and excite and get bums off seats. The Bluebirds are behind only Watford in terms of successful 1v1s in possession of the ball this season. Cardiff average 9.4 successful 1v1s per game, 0.1 behind the Hornets, as their wingers and full-backs are instructed to skin their opposite numbers before sending in crosses, an aspect of the game which admittedly needs work
And only Blackpool and Swansea have a better success rate than Cardiff (38 percent) in their 1v1 percentage in the final third of the pitch. The players are attacking and showing the right intent and that will surely only yield more goals going forward.
Passing – A big difference to Cardiff’s play this season is how they move the ball. Will Vaulks made the point last year that City’s midfielders were just used to seeing the ball get smashed over their heads and it was a pretty dull system in which to play.
But thanks to ball-playing centre-backs and a midfield which is now very much central to how City attack, Cardiff are among the top teams for passing stats so far this term. They are ninth in terms of number of passes per game on average (423) and for pass completion rate (77.1 percent). Those metrics will be far more pleasing than in recent seasons, there’s no doubt about that.
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Defending – And it’s not all about the ball, Cardiff are actually one of the top-performing sides at the other end of the pitch.
Only Norwich City and Sheffield United have a better expected goals (xG) per game against average than Cardiff (0.90). That means they concede fewer clear-cut chances than 21 teams in the Championship. A pretty telling statistic of how impressive their defence has been, despite recent set-piece troubles, which you can read about here.
Only four teams concede fewer shots per game on goal than Cardiff (10.1) and just three concede fewer shots on target than the Bluebirds (2.8) per 90 minutes.
Cardiff only allow an average 10.8 passes against them per defensive action, too, a number which is bettered by just three teams, meaning they are extremely robust and difficult to break down.
Patience is a virtue, of course, and a precious commodity in what is increasingly becoming a knee-jerk world of immediacy and intolerance. But there really is a confidence within the club, informed by the above, that they are very close to getting this all right.
Goals are the issue, make no mistake about that, but Cardiff are cultivating a system and a team which is trending in the right direction. The trouble is they are basically conceding their expected xG against (eight goals in eight games) and are not converting at the same right for their xG for. That’s the crux of it.
But with possession, tricky flair players who are winning their 1v1s, good passing statistics and a new striker in Callum Robinson, there should be some positivity that the direction of travel will change and Cardiff will start pushing their way up that table sooner rather than later.
Fans will have to stick with it all and there is a general acceptance that this is a season of transition, but one which will hopefully set City on a route to eventual success. With Hull City home next up this weekend, Steve Morison and his staff will hope the aforementioned positive statistics finally start to manifest into three points more regularly than they have done in recent weeks.