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Cardiff 3 Manchester City 2 - Tactical analysis

Pete Fraser takes an in-depth tactical look at Cardiff's incredible 3-2 victory over Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday.

Last Updated: 26/08/13 at 14:16 Post Comment

In the year Cardiff City last hosted top-flight football, the Rolling Stones were debuting at Oxford Street's Marquee club, while James Bond was hitting cinema screens for the first time. But there will be no danger of the South Wales club being overshadowed this time around.

As their first home game in Britain's pinnacle division since 1962 arrived, Cardiff produced a memorable performance to stun former Premier League champions Manchester City as Manuel Pellegrini was given a sharp wake-up call.

The glamorous visitors had taken the lead through Edin Dzeko in the second half but Cardiff hit back through Aron Gunnarsson and two headers from former Manchester United, Hull City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland striker Fraizer Campbell in a fantastic game.

Alvaro Negredo's injury-time goal gave Cardiff a slight scare but they were good value for a famous win and, here, we take an in-depth look at the match.


Cardiff boss Malky Mackay made just one change to his side from their opening day defeat by West Ham United. First-choice Andrew Taylor returned from suspension to take over from Declan John at left-back, where he was directly responsible for trying to stop Jesus Navas. The £7.5million summer signing, Andreas Cornelius, was named on the bench while another new arrival, the combative Gary Medel, was tasked with disrupting Manchester City in the centre of the pitch.

Javi Garcia came into the heart of the Manchester City defence in place of the injured Vincent Kompany, who suffered a groin injury in Monday's impressive 4-0 win over Newcastle United. Manager Pellegrini opted for Garcia, ahead of the returning Matija Nastasic, alongside Joleon Lescott at centre-half - and the pair struggled to deal with Campbell. Yaya Toure captained the visitors on his 100th Premier League start while the same attacking players who dismantled Newcastle kept their places. The movement of Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Navas was again planned as the main weapon in Pellegrini's thinking.

Where it was won and lost

Cardiff's tactics from kick-off were clear. Their promotion last season as Championship title winners was built on a strong defence after keeping a division-high 18 clean sheets, and their plan on Sunday was to suffocate Manchester City, denying the space they enjoyed to great extent against Newcastle. Mackay had said as much, telling Sky Sports in his pre-match interview: "We have got to defend properly and track the runners. They [Manchester City] will have a lot of movement today. We have got to make sure we are compact and disciplined through everything we do."

Medel was of imperative importance to this game plan in the centre of midfield, where he was tasked with denying Fernandinho and Toure the opportunity to build Manchester City's attacks. Indeed, in the first half alone, Medel made two tackles, one clearance and three interceptions.

Craig Bellamy, likewise, was especially influential against his former club, with the defensive responsibility which has become a hallmark of the later years of the veteran attacker's career again evident. The Welshman won seven of his 11 duels and boasted a 95 per cent success rate from his 20 passes.

And despite dominating with 65.6% of the first-half possession and 287 passes to Cardiff's 148, Manchester City did not react to their hosts' squeezing policy. Manchester City had just one shot on target in the first half and were seemingly unable to pull Mackay's hard-working men into wide areas.

Manchester City - inspired by Navas - were praised for seemingly using the width of the pitch in their demolition of Newcastle and in that they had been seen to have moved on from the narrow days of Roberto Mancini's management. But, in the opening 45 minutes, Manchester City demonstrated greater width against Cardiff, despite appearing restricted, than they did in the full 90 minutes versus Newcastle.

Manchester City's average positions clearly demonstrate they were no narrower in the first half against Cardiff, despite Navas being substituted shortly after the break seemingly for failing to go wide. And therefore their problems against Cardiff can be attributed to facing a more-organised opponent.

At the other end of the field, Manchester City's makeshift centre-back pairing of Lescott and Garcia had clearly been detailed to keep a high line. This would no doubt have been in response to the last time they started together in defence, the 3-1 loss at Southampton in February last season.

Southampton pushed Mancini's Manchester City back with a tactic of high pressure, and Pellegrini evidently did not want a repeat. Despite Campbell's pace causing problems to Lescott and Garcia, who was rushed into four rather panicky clearances inside the opening 15 minutes, Manchester City did manage to win possession on average 34 metres from their own goal against Cardiff in the opening hour in comparison with 27 metres over 90 minutes at Southampton last season. But this in itself caused a headache for Manchester City as Campbell's pace was constantly looking to run in behind Lescott and Garcia.

Predictably, it took a moment of brilliance for Manchester City to open up Cardiff. Ex-Wolfsburg star Dzeko maintained his impressive record in scoring away from home in the Premier League with a stunning strike in the 52 minute from Aguero's assist. It was Dzeko's only shot on target and just his second shot of the match before he was strangely substituted in the 69th minute for Negredo.

Having also won the player of the tournament at the pre-season Asia Trophy, there is no question Dzeko is benefiting from the faith of Pellegrini. And the Bosnia and Herzegovina international said of his manager prior to kick-off against Cardiff: "He called me before pre-season and told me he counted on me and wanted me to stay. He wanted me to do my best and what I had done before in Germany. I am trying to do my best."

But Dzeko's accurate finishing against Cardiff was in contrast to his performance versus Newcastle. The striker was highly praised for his display in the game with Alan Pardew's team but, in contrast to his finish against Cardiff, he was wasteful with several opportunities.

However, the defensive problems which saw Manchester City concede 12 goals in pre-season came back to haunt Pellegrini. Clearly lacking the leadership of Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta - fresh from his new contract - was the guilty party in switching off in marking against Campbell.

Firstly, the Argentine lost the Cardiff striker for the equaliser, with goalkeeper Joe Hart blocking the initial shot from close range only for Aron Gunnarsson to follow-up. Zabaleta then failed to track Campbell at two corners and, with Hart also looking unconvincing inside his six-yard box, the forward made no mistake with two headers. It was a rare lapse for Manchester City who conceded just six Premier League goals from corners in all of last season

Negredo set up a nervy finish in added time before the final whistle but there could be no question that Cardiff's commitment, dedication and organisation allowed them to cause one of the major upsets in Premier League history.

Pellegrini's view

"I think we played against a very difficult team - Cardiff had ten players near their own box and it was very difficult for us to try and score but when we scored the first goal I thought we played a bit better after that. Of course nobody can believe they can score two goals against us in set-pieces but football is like that. You must be concentrating in those kind of places and I think Cardiff won the match but I think we played better."Mackay's view

"For the first time in our history, we are in the Premier League, playing against a team who we go a goal down against and they only lost one game last year from being a goal down. They have got a tremendous clean-sheet record and we knew that it was going to be tough at that point. But we remained disciplined, organised and I felt there was a lot of belief in our ability today."

Niall Quinn's view

"It brings a whole new confidence into the Cardiff dressing room. People can feel so much better about themselves. They will walk six inches taller. They are going to have difficult days. But it is a lovely soft landing for them in the Premier League. This is an incredible victory today. Cardiff can now build on this and players like Fraizer Campbell can understand that they can do it."

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