Opposition Q & A
This weekend West Ham travel to South Wales to play against a Cardiff team still apparently reeling from the tragic death of Emiliano Sala before he had even played a game for them. Ahead of the game I once again spoke to Paul Evans from Cardiff City Blogsite Mauve and Yellow Army to discuss the upcoming game and the season so far.
The last time we spoke we were about a third of the way through the season. Now with only nine games left how would you sum up your 1st season back in the Premier League?
If I’d been asked that question about six weeks ago, I would have said not too badly, but events have cast a shadow over the season and, after it initially appeared that the team had shown strength in the face of tragedy, recent games suggest that it is now having the effect many predicted.
What do you think seeing your ex-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær turning around Manchester United? Do you wonder how he would have performed with a mass of great players in Cardiff? Or do you think that maybe you could persuade ‘The Special One’ to come to Cardiff now that he is out of a job?
Ole signed one or two players who have done well for us (e.g. Morrison and Pilkington), but he was a disastrous appointment. I can remember him addressing the crowd before his first home game, against West Ham as it turned out, and thinking what is this doing for our opponents – we lost 2-0 that day and it was a sign of things to come.
Based on what he is doing at Manchester United, I think he’s got some good tacticians with him there. It was impossible to tell what Ole was doing from one week to the next with us and I don’t there were many City fans unhappy to see him go, but, to be fair, he has shown over the last two or three months that he isn’t as bad as his spell at Cardiff suggested he was – as for Mourinho, we’ll let someone else have him!
Talking of managers how do you rate Neil Warnock’s year? Is he hampered by not having a good enough squad, or has he not maximised the potential of the players you’ve got there.
I think, generally speaking, Neil Warnock has has a good year, but I’ll qualify that to some extent in my answer to one of the other questions you’ve asked.
What have been your highlights, and lowlights of the season so far?
Last time we were in this league we beat eventual Champions Manchester City and came out on top against Swansea in a derby. I don’t think there has been anything to match that so far this season, so I’d go for scoring winners in added time to secure our only two away wins so far at Leicester and Southampton. A persistent lowlight of the the season for me is the way we have been so passive against top six sides – i’m not expecting us to be turning them over on a regular basis, but we have seemed in awe of them which is unlike us. More specifically, we were awful against Huddersfield in January and barely any better last week against Everton.
The title looks like being a two horse race: who do you think will end up as top dogs, Manchester City or Liverpool? Which two teams will join them in the Champions League positions?
Manchester City are the class act of the division for me and Liverpool were unable to quite shake them off during their poor spell around the turn of the year – I think Liverpool have probably lost their title chance with recent 0-0 away draws.
Who joins those two in the Champions League next season is a tough one. For me, Spurs are the best of the other four, but there is a bit of a frailty to them lately, Arsenal are the weakest judging by their games with us and what I’ve seen of them on the telly, but are hanging in there, Chelsea are having one of their “walkabout” phases and I’m not wholly convinced they are back to something like their best and, instinctively, I’m against any group of players that “down tools” in the way that Man United’s did in the first half of the season, but, if I had to pick two from four to make it into the Champions League, I’d go for them and Spurs.
Where do you think West Ham will end the season?
Not a clue! Anywhere between seventh and about fifteenth – you’ve been very inconsistent and, after the amount spent in the summer and the managerial appointment you made, I think I’d be quite disappointed with the season so far if I were a West Ham fan
You intimated when we last spoke that it would be difficult to stay up this season. Looking at your upcoming fixtures you do have to play four of the teams near you, but you also have to face both Manchester teams and Chelsea: are you going to be able to escape the drop? If so, which of the teams above you do you think will join Fulham and Huddersfield, both of whom look truly doomed, in being relegated?
We’ve also got to play Liverpool in those last nine matches, so, a combination of our fixture list, the loss of the talismanic Sol Bamba and the way we’ve played in our last three matches makes me very pessimistic (I see Saturday as our first truly must win game of the season). There’s also the awful Emiliano Sala situation (which is now, sadly, turning into the squalid row about money that it always threatened to be) which, leaving the emotion of the whole thing aside, has seen us pay a club record fee for someone who is never going to score us a goal or win us a game.
Therefore, although £15 million is not a fortune by the standards of this league, it is getting towards half of what we had spent on other new players since getting promoted.
This brings me on to what I would call a weakness of Neil Warnock’s – excepting Sala, his buys when spending big money by Cardiff City’s standards is not impressive. Warnock has chosen to create a squad which, in terms of natural ability and technique, is the worst in the division in my opinion, but has tried to bridge that gap through things like strength, character and team spirit. For much of the time, this approach has looked like it had a chance of working, but the number of times we’ve conceded three or more in a game (eleven) is testimony to the risks behind an approach which leaves us virtually nowhere to go if plan A isn’t working – “Warnockball” played badly has absolutely nothing to commend it at all.
We’ve done well to be the one of the three expected relegation sides that may still confound the pundits, but, in truth, I’m fairly sure we’re going down now – that was a big win for Brighton last weekend because it means that we need two wins to get past them, Southampton have definitely improved under Hasenhüttl and we could never go to Old Trafford and perform like they did, so Burnley’s recent downturn might offer a little hope (they were the worst side I’ve seen us play this season), but we need to get points on the board before we can start to make them panic and it’s hard to see us doing that at the moment.
If worse comes to worst and you are relegated, what should your priorities be for next season?
To hear our manager talk, our budget for this season was peanuts, but that’s not true, so I’m not one of those City fans who think we’ll do something akin to what Stoke did last summer if we do go down. I think it’s more likely that we will be competitive in the transfer market without being extravagant. Whatever happens though, the truth is that we have an ageing squad and a midfield which is likely to be rocked by loan players not returning and Aron Gunnarsson moving on. That all makes me think it would be a good time for Neil Warnock to retire to his farm in Cornwall so that we could bring in a new, more modern thinking, manager who would, hopefully, make improving our truly abysmal record of recent years when it comes to developing our own players a priority.
Which /Cardiff City player will get your vote for player of the season, and who else has had a look in?
Last time we were in this league, goalkeeper David Marshall was, far and away, our best player and this time around Neil Etheridge would be my nominee for that award (that tells you all you need to know about the nature of our two Premier League campaigns!). Honestly, I find it hard to come up with other contenders – Bruno Manga has his backers, as does Bamba and I’ve liked the rare shafts of skill provided by Victor Camarasa at times, but it has to be Etheridge as far as I’m concerned.
How will Cardiff City line up against West Ham this weekend?
Neil Warnock finally seems to have lost patience with a set of wingers that have been too flakey week in, week out for this division, so it’s hard to predict a side – Sol Bamba’s season ending injury means we’re down to two specialist centre-backs, but I still believe that a side with three centre-backs (Lee Peltier can play there), a couple of wing backs, three central midfielders and either two strikers or a striker and number ten would give us the solidity that we can lack when we play wingers. However, I think it’s more likely our team will look something like:-
Peltier Morrison Manga Bennett
Paterson Gunnarsson Ralls Camarasa
Prediction for the score?
Your inconsistency gives me a little hope, but, based on our home form since Manchester United beat us 5-1 just before Christmas, you can probably expect one of your most comfortable wins of the season – I’ll go for 0-2.
Well many thanks to Paul for his time once again. I think I will agree with him and also go for a 0-2 victory to West Ham. COYI