Tactical Analysis: Why did Cardiff beat Fulham?

Cardiff finally got their first win of the season against Fulham, coming away with a 4-2 victory at the Cardiff City Stadium. Here, I take a look at why they were able to win.

Cardiff set up in a simple 4-4-2 formation, but with the likes of Victor Camarasa and Callum Paterson given license to get forward. But they had their ranks organised which is always a good start. The next thing is that they were not tightly marking Fulham, but loosely marking them, which is clever. So they were allowing Fulham to have the ball, but they were ensuring that whichever Fulham player had the ball, they couldn’t pass it forward. Everyone knew their role and where they had to be, and this worked. The first Fulham goal from Andre Schurrle was just one of those you have to applaud, but if I was being really technical I would say that when Harry Arter was backtracking with Schurrle, he was a little too sideways on instead of being slightly more facing frontwards. What this meant is simply that when Schurrle switched the direction of the ball to open up for the shot, Arter wasn’t able to change with him, which he might have been able to if he had altered his positioning slightly, but it was still a fantastic strike so credit to Schurrle for that.

The second reason that they won this game was because Josh Murphy started on the wing. Incidentally, I saw an article last week arguing that Cardiff’s strikers should be embarrassed that Callum Paterson, who is about as able a utility player as you will see at any club, is starting in the striker’s position ahead of the likes of Kenneth Zohore, Gary Madine and Danny Ward, and to an extent Bobby Reid although I don’t class him as a striker but an attacking midfielder who can play the false 9 role. To an extent, I agree, but at the same time, Zohore and Reid have both started games previously, but haven’t added a threat (Reid’s performance today aside). The article argued that Josh Murphy could play as the striker, and although that is true, I would still like to see him play as a winger because his energy and desire to cut inside creates more options for Cardiff than if he was constricted to the central role of a striker. I am a huge fan of him and his talent, because what he did against Fulham is be an option in space. He was out wide when he needed to be, but he was also very happy to cut inside and weave through the Fulham defenders, who couldn’t cope with the Cardiff attack all game. His desire and quality of never switching off ran through the team and their second goal was lucky from Bobby Reid, because it fell to him just where he wanted it via the forest of legs in the Fulham wall following a free kick, but the fact that they were concentrating and Fulham weren’t is yet another reason why Cardiff won.

This newfound desire to attack was also perfectly demonstrated in the Bluebirds’ fourth, through Kadeem Harris, another winger, and this desire is what they need in the rest of the season. If they can keep that going throughout all the games, even if they are up against so-called top-six sides, then no-one can say that they didn’t try this season. But what they need to convert this newfound excellent attitude into results is some Premier League quality, which I have constantly insisted is what they are missing.

There are still questions about their defending though. I have already spoken about Fulham’s first goal, but their second from Ryan Sessegnon, another player who I am a massive fan of and who has a very bright future in the game, came purely from a moment when Cardiff switched off and gave the ball away cheaply. But if they can keep the goalscoring going, and add some quality at both ends of the pitch when January arrives, then they may still be able to do the supposedly impossible and stay up.

And what about Fulham’s part in this result?

I like Fulham and I like their free-flowing style of football. But they are being let down by their defending and the constant changing of players in the starting 11 is hurting them. Their back line is shaky and I think against Cardiff it was a game they had to get something from, because their early promise has gone away and they are now officially struggling at the bottom of the table. The lack of consistency in the team means that partnerships between centre-backs or midfielders can’t be forged, and you need that. It’s like with goalkeepers and defenders – you need to have one goalkeeper who always plays because defenders get used to the way that keeper plays. If you keep changing the team around, then that doesn’t happen and it affects you in the form of bad results. Cardiff’s second and third goals (from Reid and Callum Paterson) in particular highlight this issue. Reid’s was lucky but Fulham weren’t concentrating, as I have said. Paterson’s happened because the ball rolled across the Fulham box and the defenders failed to deal with it before it got to Paterson. The fourth goal from Harris came because of an unfortunate slip, but by then the damage had been done by Cardiff, so it just summed up Fulham’s day.

So finally, to link this back to previous analysis on these two teams, Cardiff I have said have the quality of a Championship squad but are not a Premier League squad. However, they have Premier League attitude when Josh Murphy is playing. If they can get the player or two that they need in January, then they can continue to fight. Do I think they can stay up? It’s still relatively early in the season to say, but one thing is for sure – we’ll know after January what their chances realistically are. For Fulham, I argued in the summer that they brought in too many new players, and certainly at the back that is starting to tell, because they don’t have a settled back four and it is seriously costing them vital points at the moment. January will be an interesting month for them as well, because will there be incomings, outgoings, or both? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was both to be honest, but they need to bring in players in the right areas, not just completely overhaul the squad like they did over the summer.

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