Perennial play-off bottlers Cardiff City managed to swerve the extra three games last season and instead were crowned champions of what is widely thought of as the most competitive division in the world.
Despite the furore that surrounded owner Vincent Tan’s decision to change the club’s playing colours from blue to red (which is supposed to bring luck in his native Malaysia), Malky Mackay’s men comfortably finished top of the pile last season thanks to subsequent heavy investment in their strike force.
The Bluebirds started the campaign with Craig Bellamy, Etien Velikonja, Nicky Maynard and Rudy Gestede available up top. When it became clear that they were in with a chance of promotion, they signed one-time England international Frazier Campbell to secure promotion. Seven goals in 12 games from Campbell ensured that his transfer was justified and Cardiff City would join England’s elite.
Since promotion was confirmed, Cardiff have been pragmatic in the transfer market. Despite new riches now on offer, they have made just two singings. Granted, Danish striker Andreas Cornelius broke the club’s transfer record when signing for £8.5m, but they have not strengthened as many would have expected. The arrival of former Derby defender John Brayford may not set any pulses racing in Wales, but he is a solid acquisition for a defence that conceded just 45 goals last season.
Last season: 1st Championship
In: Andreas Cornelius (FC Copenhagen, £8.5m)
Out: Stephen McPhail (released), Heidar Helguson (released), Nat Jarvis (released)
The aforementioned acquisitions of Brayford and Cornelius are just the tip of the transfer window iceberg for Cardiff, you feel. Linked with everyone from unknown African defenders to Javier Saviola, it has certainly been a summer of eclectic transfer rumours for the Bluebirds.
The signing of Thomas Ince from Blackpool seemed inevitable a couple of weeks ago, but as he continues to hold out for a bigger move the transfer has stagnated. Ince has said that a ‘gut feeling’ stopped him from signing, but there is no guarantee that he will be playing Premier League football this campaign – unlike the Bluebirds.
Other rumours that will excite the Cardiff fans are the links with French midfield powerhouse Etienne Capoue and Mexican defender Hector Moreno. Battling with the likes of Atletico Madrid for the services of Capoue shows how far they have come in such a short time.
Also, relatively, new is the Bluebirds’ stadium. Opening last summer with a capacity of just under 27,000, the exuberantly-named Cardiff City stadium was built for Premier League football and that is what it will be hosting after just one season of Championship football.
The kit issue continues to rage on, too. Leaked images on Twitter taken by a fan appear to show Bluebirds captain Mark Hudson modelling the club’s new away kit. The kit on display is full canary yellow, which has caused outrage amongst the fans who are worried there will be no blue representation for the club next season.
Tactics – Starting XI
With more new signings likely, it is near impossible to know what side Malky Mackay will send out for the Bluebirds’ inaugural Premier League campaign.
As it stands, it seems likely that Cornelius will lead the line in the 4-3-3 formation that won them promotion last season. Expect Craig Bellamy and one of Craig Noone, Craig Conway, Maynard and Campbell to support from the flanks.
Deeper in midfield, Jordan Mutch will be wearing gloves (no matter what the weather) and spraying passes. The former Birmingham man will be tasked with keeping the side ticking over in midfield and would be perfectly suited by playing alongside someone of Capoue’s ilk as he will do all of his running, too.
At the back, the battle between Brayford and McNaughton for the right-back slot appears to be the only significant alteration from last season.
More clues should become available after today’s friendly with Cheltenham Town, to which 1,500 Cardiff fans will be travelling.
Andreas Cornelius. The 6ft 4in striker has a lot to live up to following the significant investment made in him this summer.
A powerful 15-yard headed goal against Forest Green on his ‘debut’ will have excited some fans, but can he replicate that when it matters? As well as scoring the goals to keep Cardiff in the Premier League, the great Dane will be tasked with being the focal point of City’s attacks. His hold-up play and first touch have looked good in pre-season and it will need to be in order to utilise the wide men that will be inevitably either side of him.
Keep an eye one
Striker Frazier Campbell will see this opportunity as a chance to make up for lost time. After long spells out injured whilst at Sunderland, Campbell appears to have resurrected his career in Wales. If he can continue scoring at the rate he did last campaign, a second, and many more, England caps will not be far off.
From the academy, England U19 international Joe Ralls is the one to watch. Despite making just four appearances last season, the attacking midfielder is highly-rated by Mackay and will be in and around matchday squads this season providing he isn’t loaned out, of course.
A trip to Upton Park to face West Ham will not provide an ideal opening game for Cardiff. The Hammers’ home record kept them up last season so it will be tough to leave with more than a point for the Bluebirds. That said, there is not much difference in terms of quality between the two teams, so with the impetus of a Premier League debut for many players, City may well be able to come away with a win.
Two home fixtures follow, but against Manchester City and Everton. If the Bluebirds were to lose all three of those opening fixtures, the game away at Hull City on September 14th could already have added significance.
Where will they finish?
An apparent reluctance to delve into the transfer market for anything below top class from Mackay could actually help the Bluebirds. Familiarity could be Cardiff’s best friend this season, so if Cornelius and company can hit the ground running, expect a cosy midtable finish.
BPF Prediction: 17th