Written, for WalesOnline – view original article here
Cardiff City returned with just one point on their away travels to both QPR and Blackburn Rovers – an underwhelming tally in light of the recent improvements made under Neil Warnock. However, City have a very winnable match against a plummeting Birmingham City on Saturday afternoon.
Here’s all you need to know on the opposition…
Style of play
It’s clear that Birmingham want to build an identity, despite the obvious shortcomings they are currently facing.
Blues boss Gianfranco Zola recently spoke of his desire to “do whatever it takes to get the team playing” to the “philosophy” that is wished for by the club’s owners.
Zola’s team are very much in their embryonic days; showing promising sings of evolving their style to a more aesthetic one, but lacking the clinical edge and aggression necessary in the Championship. These fine margins have cost them dearly this season.
And Birmingham’s vision of implementing a fashionable philosophy might just cost them Championship status. They are eight points above the bottom three, but with a dismal nine points from a possible 45, they are showing worrying sings of relegation form and need to arrest their slump immediately.
City can take advantage of this fledgling style by exposing the evident deficiencies of Zola’s men.
Che Adams has been one of very few positives in Birmingham’s gloomy season. The 20-year-old is clearly one for the future and was brought in by former manager Garry Rowett. Adams can take up any role in the forward line – be it a striker, attacking midfielder or winger – and assume the position with a maturity and craft that belies his tender age.
Chipping in with four goals and three assists, Adams always has the potential to threaten.
On loan from Burnley, the forward has struggled for form recently. Jutkiewicz has found the net ten times in the league this season, marking him out as the Blues’ top scorer. Yet, as Birmingham’s form dipped, naturally so has his.
Zola’s desperate efforts to tweak the team and improve performances have often been at the 27 year-old’s expense, but many Blues fans and pundits are calling for his re-introduction.
Effective in the air and, as someone who can hold up play, Zola might be tempted to pair him with Adams. If a partnership is formed, it has the ability to cause damage and trouble to most Championship defences.
Garry Rowett had led Birmingham from the brink of relegation to within a few points of the play-offs in two seasons. He had earned the respect – and rightly so – of the Brummie faithful and had been the recipient of much praise. His team were functional and effective, and looked set to mount a serious challenge on the top six.
Yet, frictions with the Birmingham hierarchy led to his shock dismissal; a sacking much lamented by the fans and admonished in the press.
Gianfranco Zola was then appointed, brought in with the vision of leading the Blues back to the Premier league, but in an attractive fashion.
It would be an understatement to say that this hasn’t exactly worked out. One win in their last seven and no wins on the road since late November shows that the dawn promised by the Blues’ owners has yet to surface.
Zola has not sustained himself at any club he has managed – sackings at Cagiliari and Saudi Arabian side Al-Arabi with contract terminations at West Ham and Watford do not speak to a successful managerial record.
He did manage to guide his Watford side to the 2012 play-off final against Crystal Palace, losing 1-0 in extra time. However, by November of next season he had left, with the Hornets languishing in 13th place.
Zola is yet to have translated his illustrious and stylish playing career into an effective and pragmatic managerial role.
Every week we talk about set-pieces being a key advantage for Cardiff City and this game is no different.
Birmingham have conceded a shocking 20 goals from set-pieces and City should look to exploit this as often as possible. The deficiency in marking and attacking the ball also mean wing-play is an area where the Bluebirds might find some joy. Kadeem Harris’ rebirth under Warnock could continue come the match, and Warnock should give the young man licence to roam and run at the full-backs.
Zola’s defence will allow opposition onto them, conceding an average of 15 shots per game. With City averaging a goal every nine shots, it is likely Cardiff will be able to put at least one past Birmingham’s Tomasz Kuszczak. Kenneth Zohore has seven goals in his last eight and such clinical form means he will be relishing facing this leaking Blues’ defence.
The Blues defensive line has resembled something of a chaotic dot-to-dot this season and its absence of organisation and discipline means there are pockets of space open to exploitation. Peter Whittingham’s eye for a pass might be vital as the Bluebirds look to take advantage of this disorganised and dishevelled back-line.
Championship games are rarely a formality, but given Birmingham’s abysmal form and Cardiff’s revival under Warnock this fixtures presents an opportunity similar to the match against Rotherham: to entertain and win in style.
This might be a game where Warnock tinkers with his line-up, but any team he puts out should be enough to see off Zola’s men.
A comfortable win for the Bluebirds: 2-0.