Cardiff City welcome Manchester City to Wales on Sunday as last season's Championship winners experience their first heavyweight fixture since being promoted to the Premier League. It will be a huge test for Malky Mackay's men and, defensively, they will need to be at their best. Here, £8m man Steven Caulker provides an insight into how they might deal with star-studded opponents
Defending is an art form. It may not be the most glamorous element of football but, when properly executed, it is crucial.
Cardiff, who had the best defence in the Championship last season with 18 clean sheets, will be fully aware of that importance ahead of this weekend, when they will attempt to snub out the threat of their glamorous visitors, Manchester City, live on Sky Sports 1HD and 3D on Super Sunday in Wales.
The 2011/12 Premier League champions, now under the management of Manuel Pellegrini, spent almost £90million in the close-season on a frightening array of attacking talent, including Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic.
Add that to the existing talent of the likes of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and David Silva, who ripped Newcastle United apart on Monday night Football, and it will clearly be vital for Cardiff to be defensively well organised and alert.
Manager Malky Mackay will be prepping his squad and it will be crucial for them to identify and stop the fluid runs which saw the likes of the impressive Dzeko, Silva and Aguero torment Newcastle when rotating their movement around the pitch.
Denying City space to operate, particularly given the range of areas of the pitch in which Dzeko, for example, touched the ball before shooting in central positions, will be critical and so their defenders will have to be constantly reading the game, communicating and showing concise decision-making.
Cardiff's own summer signing, England international Steven Caulker, will be an integral part of his side's plans and the 21-year-old will need to rely on the instincts which have seen him billed as a rising star.
"First thing first is spotting the danger," said the £8m buy from Tottenham Hotspur. "I constantly check over my shoulder, where the runners are and where the ball could possibly be played.
"The second rule, once I have anticipated and made my movement to close down the ball, is that I expect communication from the goalkeeper and centre-half to advise me on which way to show the attacker.
"Once I reach the attacker, I get myself nice and closed and stay composed. As soon as the attacker takes a heavy touch or goes to cross the ball, I then get the block in and clear the ball away from danger.
"I then communicate back with team-mates to tell them to squeeze up."
|Player||Steven Caulker - Premier League 2012/13|
|Minutes On Pitch||1575|
|Tackles and Blocks|
|Total Tackles Made||19|
|Last-Man Saving Tackles||0|
|Tackles Won %||78.9%|
|Ground Duel Success %||65.6%|
With a tackle success rate of almost 79 per cent and having won more than half of his ground duels for Tottenham in the Premier League last season, Caulker clearly knows what he is talking about.
But he will have his hands full with Manchester City and, playing as the right-sided centre-back, as he did in Cardiff's defeat by West Ham United on the opening day of the season, he will not only need to beware of Dzeko if Pellegrini keeps faith in the same players who beat Newcastle.
Silva squeezed in tight from the left side of midfield against Alan Pardew's struggling squad and so, as demonstrated versus West Ham, Caulker will need to be bold and be prepared to spread into wider areas to help to nullify the threat of the Spaniard.
This will put extra emphasis on Caulker's demands for communication from his team-mates, as runners such as Dzeko or Aguero will be able to exploit any room which is vacated by the centre-back.
Organisation will therefore be vital for Cardiff but, if they can succeed in their plans, it could be possible to shut off the threat of Manchester City.
Steven Caulker wears the super soft PUMA King. It's in his nature to be the Ringleader - he runs the show. Caulker has filmed exclusive Nature of Performance training videos to help you become the master at denying the opposition space. Head to facebook.com/pumafootball to watch and share