Can Cardiff City scrap their way to victory against a beleaguered Manchester United side when the two teams meet at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday (17:30 GMT, live on BT Sport)?
Cardiff have given a solid account of themselves in their first season back in the top flight following a four-year absence. They lasted just a single campaign on that occasion, and the bookies had them as clear pre-season favourites to suffer that same fate this time around.
However, a combination of a decent points haul of 14 points from 17 matches and the fact that Fulham, Huddersfield and Burnley have all been worse than them in terms of results and underlying performances means that while Neil Warnock’s side remain one of the relegation favourites, they have at least given themselves a fighting chance of survival.
Cardiff are pretty much what you would expect from a Warnock side. They are direct and intense, holding less possession, completing a lower percentage of their passes and winning more aerial contests than any other side in the division. Their matches to date have been pretty open, averaging the sixth-highest number of goals (2.94) in the Premier League.
It is a rough and tumble approach but one that has proved profitable, on home soil at least. Cardiff have won four of their last five at the Cardiff City Stadium and picked up 13 of their 14 points there. They have been far less impressive on their travels, where they have drawn one and lost seven, including a 2-3 defeat away to Watford last weekend.
Cardiff’s home form is unlikely to be sufficient to see them beat the drop, but if they can start to pick up at least a few more results away, there is no harm in it acting as the driving force behind their points accumulation. Victory over a side like Manchester United would provide the confidence and belief to go forth into a strong second half of the season.
Such a result looks a lot more likely now than it would have done when the fixture list was first drawn up. At that stage, Man Utd had just finished second in the Premier League and the assumption was that they would again challenge towards the top of the table in the new season. That hasn’t proved to be the case. On points, United are actually closer to the relegation zone than they are to leaders Liverpool.
Perhaps more damagingly, they are already 11 points off the top four – surely the minimum aim for the campaign. Neither have they shown any sign of being capable of the sort of run of results necessary to close that gap. They haven’t won more than two on the bounce in the league to date and travel to Cardiff on the back of just one win, three draws and two defeats in their last six matches.
It was their 1-3 defeat away to Liverpool last weekend that brought an end to Jose Mourinho’s two-and-a-half year reign as head coach. Man Utd were thoroughly outplayed and outshot in a dire performance perhaps best summed up by Marouane Fellaini’s wild effort from outside the area that ended up felling a steward sat by the corner flag.
Mourinho’s departure had long looked inevitable. He spent pre-season (somewhat laughably) complaining about a lack of support in the transfer market. He has spent much of the campaign squabbling with Paul Pogba, the club’s most expensive player and if not entirely blameless in the dispute, certainly not an asset it makes sense to leave on the sidelines.
Former United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come in as a caretaker until the end of the season. He is a familiar face to both sets of supporters this weekend, as he was the man in charge for the second half of Cardiff’s relegation in their last Premier League season, and then only lasted seven matches into their subsequent Championship campaign. His tenure in South Wales is far from fondly remembered.
Cardiff have shown enough in recent home matches to suggest that they will be capable of giving Man Utd a good game regardless of the man on the opposition bench. They have a solid chance of coming away from Saturday’s match with at least a point to their credit.
Our Preview’s Cardiff City vs Man Utd Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on Cardiff City +0.5 on the Asian Handicap @ best odds of 6/4 with Unibet.