Cardiff City Season Preview: optimism under Warnock?

It seems Cardiff fans are more positive about the club’s prospects under Neil Warnock than any manager they’ve had since relegation. Is it his charisma that gets people on board? Supporter Callum Ellis gives him a big thumbs up.

Warnock’s definitely got something unique that other managers haven’t had since we got relegated. Although he’s had the most experience in the Championship in comparison to the other three managers, there’s a certain way he goes about his job that really excites fans.

He previously stated that he wants to get ‘all the club together’, which is why the club’s current slogan, ‘City as one’, really speaks for itself. Since his arrival there’s been a real buzz around the stadium, and the fans seem to be feeling very confident for the season ahead.

Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge signs on a free after an outstanding season at Walsall. With loanees Ben Amos and Allan McGregor not returning, was it important to add competition in Lee Camp?

It looks as though Etheridge will get the number one spot, but it’s great to have a goalkeeper like Lee Camp challenging for the starting position. I think Etheridge can learn a lot from him because he’s got such a great deal of experience in the Championship.

Whenever the Bluebirds have come up against Camp, he’s always been a goalkeeper that’s impressed me and I think his addition to the squad will be a huge benefit for us.

You scored 21 goals from set pieces last season, only Reading and Newcastle grabbed more. Why were you such a threat from those situations?

With the likes of Sean Morrison, Sol Bamba and Kenneth Zohore in the box, we always posed a threat from corners, and I think that’ll be where many of our goals will come from again this season.

We also had a set piece specialist in Peter Whittingham last season, who always looks a danger whenever he’s standing over the ball. However, with his departure, we’ll have to wait and see if there’s another free-kick expert amongst the squad.

Just two teams scored fewer goals in open play than Cardiff (32) and only three had more shots outside the box per game (4.5). Why did you struggle to unlock teams in open play?

I don’t think it was down to the fact that we didn’t create enough chances going forward. It was simply that we weren’t clinical enough in front of goal, which we’ll have to be this season if we have any chance of making the top six.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing joins from Rochdale while fellow wide man Kadeem Harris has signed a new deal. Both are quick, but do they have the calibre to take your approach play up another level?

Before Warnock’s arrival, I always thought Harris was overlooked by previous managers. Although he’s been with the club since 2012, I think it was only last season that he was really given a chance to prove what he could do. He certainly took the opportunity handed to him and he’s done well ever since.

Mendez-Laing is someone who’s impressed me during pre-season. He looks as though he can hold the ball up well and isn’t afraid to take defenders on. I’m sure his pace, like Harris’, will benefit us greatly in the final third. However, with the likes of Matty Kennedy and Anthony Pilkington also to choose from, it will be interesting to see who Warnock names in the staring 11 on August 5th.

Danny Ward was among Rotherham’s better players last year. Is the club right to pick the best players from League One clubs, or does this limit the quality you can bring in?

Ward shone in a very poor Rotherham side last season and if it hadn’t been for his 11 goals, I’m sure they would’ve been relegated at a much earlier stage. Having previously worked with him at Rotherham, Warnock must feel as though he can add something to the squad, so I don’t see any issue with bringing in players from League One.

Sol Bamba was imperious on his Cardiff debut against Bristol City. Did he draw strength from that in the subsequent 25 games?

His performance in the Severnside derby would’ve given him a massive confidence boost heading into the remaining games, and I believe he must start in the back line this season. He was another player that stood out along with Zohore and Gunnarsson last season, and I’m sure he will have a big part to play in our bid for promotion.

Some suggest Callum Paterson has been signed to play as a right wing-back. Given the calibre of your centre-backs, Bamba plus Bruno Manga and Sean Morrison, could three-at-the-back be used at times?

It’ll be interesting to see how we line up against Burton on the opening day, but I think Warnock will tinker the formation throughout the season. I’d like to see us play with Bamba, Morrison and Manga in a back five, but I think it will vary depending on the opposition we come up against – I think our defence is one of the strongest in the league.

There is an industrious look to your midfield. Are you happy with the performances of Joe Ralls and Aron Gunnarsson?

Warnock has seemingly rejuvenated Gunnarsson and he’s been a real stalwart in midfield since his arrival. He was deservedly named Player of the Season and I’m sure he will be eager to achieve a second promotion to the Premier League with the Bluebirds.

Joe Ralls is someone who’s come on a great deal over the past two seasons, although consistency was sometimes an issue, I think he worked well alongside Gunnarsson in the centre of the park last season. Once again, with the addition of French midfielder, Loic Damour, who’s also shone in pre-season, Warnock will have a tricky job when choosing his starting 11 on the opening day.

All 12 of Kenneth Zohore’s goals last season came after Christmas. Was the club rewarded for showing patience with him while he settled?

Man management is something that Warnock excels in, you just have to look at Zohore’s form at the tail end of last season to see that. After trailing 0-1 at half-time against Wolves in December, Zohore came out in the second half and completely transformed the game, with the final score finishing 2-1. It was later revealed that Warnock gave him a ‘secret’ pep talk, and he’s been superb ever since. The club has definitely been rewarded for showing patience with him and I wouldn’t be surprised if he scores 20+ goals this season.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think it’s tough to predict how the top six will pan out, obviously, I’d expect Villa, Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday to be knocking on the door. However, Wolves have done some great business in this window so I’ll put them down as the team to watch.

Where will you finish?

I think we’ll finish in the top eight but I’m still finding it tricky to pinpoint exactly where we’ll end up. However, we’ve got a gem in Kenneth Zohore and anything is possible under Neil Warnock – for those two reasons I’m going to predict a 5th place finish.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Form under Neil Warnock has excited Cardiff City fans, but after last year’s reliance on Whittingham’s set pieces, it remains to be seen whether they’ll have more weapons in their armoury. Direct football got the Bluebirds out of trouble, though they may lack the tactical variation to become a top six proposition. 15th 

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