Cardiff City Season Preview: can they beat the drop?

With the 2018-19 Premier League season a few days away, The Football Lab spoke to Cardiff City fan Callum Ellis (@CallumJEllis).

When Neil Warnock took over in October 2016, you were second from bottom of the Championship; 19 months later, you were celebrating promotion. What are the key things Warnock has done to make that turnaround possible?

Warnock has installed a togetherness throughout the squad and brought the whole club together. When the players stepped out on the pitch last season, they gave their all – and that’s Warnock’s mentality – don’t let the fans down. That togetherness will be even more important this season, even when times get tough.

After promotion was secured, there were scenes of Vincent Tan being carried in celebration; although the cynics might suggest the people carrying him weren’t fans. What is the general feeling towards him?

I understand the reasons behind fans not returning following the rebrand – but in all honesty, I think he saved our football club. Some may disagree with him being carried on the final day, but I felt that showed how much has changed since our last promotion. He’s doing things the right way now and long may it continue.

Neil Etheridge had a good season last year after signing from Walsall. Is it a sign of the goalkeeper’s progression that he’ll be playing in a higher league than the previous campaign for a second year running?

I think that would be a fair comment. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the top flight, but unfortunately, he will miss a few weeks of the season due to the Asian Cup. I think Alex Smithies is a good addition – and hopefully he will step up when Etheridge departs for the tournament in January.

Bruno Manga had to fill in at right-back at times last season. Do you think he fared well there, or has he been in some ways unlucky that Sol Bamba and Sean Morrison have formed such an outstanding centre-back pairing?

Manga has been utilised as a right-back quite a few times over the last few seasons, but has struggled due to his lack of pace. The Premier League, as everyone knows, has no room for error which is why the addition of Greg Cunningham provides more cover in defence.

Joe Bennett looks like a safety-first left-back. Are you hoping Greg Cunningham is someone who might offer a little more adventure?

I think Cunningham’s consistency over the past few seasons for Preston suggests he’s a good addition. He may add a more attacking threat, but Bennett’s got a good delivery and was another key figure last season.

It will be interesting to see who starts on the opening day, but I think Bennett will be given the nod based on his performances last term.

Joe Ralls was arguably one of the best all-round midfielders in the Championship last year and Callum Paterson looked impressive too. Do you see them being assets in the Premier League?

Yes, definitely. Ralls and Paterson, like Bamba and Morrison, formed a great partnership last season. Paterson missed nearly three months due to an injury but still managed to play a key role – and even netted 10 goals. I think those two will be in the starting line-up on the opening day but we still need reinforcements in midfield.

Your front three of Junior Hoilett, Kenneth Zohore and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing looked outstanding in the first half of the season, but perhaps weren’t quite as consistent after Christmas. Would that be fair?

I would say they each went through a sticky patch throughout the season, nevertheless they all played a key part in promotion. Mendez-Laing, in particular, had a great start to the campaign so it was always going to be difficult for him to keep up the same level of consistency.

The arrivals of Yanic Wildschut and Marko Grujic in January seemed to give you a timely kick. Would you like to see either of them return?

Wildschut has recently joined Bolton on loan so I think we can write off any chances of him returning. However, he didn’t make a great impact last term.

Grujic is reportedly linked with a return and he impressed me last season. I think he needs more game time and we still need to strengthen in the centre of midfield, so another loan move would make sense.

Bobby Reid and Josh Murphy arrive after reasonable campaigns in the Championship with Bristol City and Norwich respectively. Can they step up?

I think they both have the potential to do so, and they’ll be looked upon to score the goals this season. I feel they will both want to prove themselves in the top flight and we’ll need to ensure they stay fit if we want any chance of survival.

We don’t see many classic, old-fashioned centre-forwards in the Premier League these days. Do you think Gary Madine will provide the element of surprise, or does he lack the pace required for the top level?

Madine netted 10 goals for Bolton last season, but failed to make any sort of impact after joining us in January. He’s a decent Championship player but I think the Premier League will be a step too far for him.

Bluebirds aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? How do you assess your competitors?

As I said in last season’s Championship preview, Wolves strengthened exceptionally well – and they’ve bettered that this term. Fulham have done some tidy business too, especially bringing in Andre Schurrle on loan. However, I think Huddersfield and Watford will struggle this season.

In terms of the title race, I fancy Pep Guardiola to do the business again so I’ll put Manchester City down to lift the trophy.

Where will you finish?

There’s no doubting Warnock has a very tough job on his hands. But we’re back in the Premier League with the club more united than ever. I’m sure any fan would’ve bitten your hand off if you told them that when Warnock was appointed. I think we’ll do enough to avoid the drop – 16th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Cardiff City did superbly to win promotion last season and Neil Warnock deserves immense credit, as does centre-back beast Sol Bamba and impressive midfielder Joe Ralls. However, it remains to be seen how the second-tier’s seventh-oldest squad will handle the step up, given that they have won just two of their last 12 against the Championship’s top eight. The Bluebirds’ old-school tactics could shock the Premier League, but is more likely to see them lack the flexibility and imagination required to compete. 20th