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Talking Tactics

How Warnock made Cardiff a fortress

Adrian Clarke 21 Dec 2018
Neil Warnock, Callum Paterson

Adrian Clarke says manager's switch of Callum Paterson to role up front one reason for recent Welsh revival

Adrian Clarke looks at the key tactical battles in Matchweek 18.

Cardiff City v Manchester United

Two tactical tweaks by Neil Warnock have transformed Cardiff City's home form.

After a disappointing start to the campaign, with two points from the first eight matches, the 70-year-old brought Aron Gunnarsson into the XI as a deep-lying midfielder and converted utility man Callum Paterson into a lone striker.

Results at home have been transformed. After earning just a point from four matches at the Cardiff City Stadium they have won four of their last five matches there.

It will give Warnock optimism his side can get the better of a Manchester United side managed for the first time by former Cardiff boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Return of the Ice Man

Gunnarsson's return from a knee injury in mid-October can be seen as a big turning point.

Without the all-action Icelander to hold their midfield together during the opening weeks, the team had relied on Joe Ralls, Harry Arter or Victor Camarasa to protect their back four. 

But all three prefer box-to-box roles where they can make forward runs in support of the centre-forward. The return of Gunnarsson has enabled them to do that.

The 29-year-old is not an outstanding ball-winner but has injected strength and mobility into the central areas.

Knowing he will charge around the middle third providing cover, Arter, Ralls and Camarasa have been able to play a little further forward.

Consequently, the side have been better balanced.

Cardiff’s improving home record
Per/90 First four matches Last five matches
Shots 12.0 16.6
Shots on target 2.8 4.0
Shots conceded 13.3 11.2
Shots on target conceded 7.3 3.4
Average points 0.3 2.4

Although early home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester City should be taken into account, it is clear Warnock's men have improved at both ends of the pitch since Gunnarsson returned, as the table above shows.

The midfielder's steel has given the team greater stability, with and without the ball.

A new front man

Switching Paterson into the centre-forward role has also been a masterstroke.

The 24-year-old impressed in the Championship as a combative central midfield player who burst into the box to score goals.

From time to time he had even operated at right-back.

Yet across the last 10 Premier League fixtures Paterson has been the spearhead of the Cardiff attack, in a modified 4-1-4-1.

He has shown a good poacher's instinct, scoring against Fulham, Liverpool, Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton, but it is his strength as a target man that most stands out.

The Scot's power in the air is second to none. He has won more aerial duels than any other player in the league.

Paterson is a handful for defenders, producing knockdowns for midfield runners, and holding the ball up well, as well as alleviating pressure for his own team-mates.

Most PL aerial battles won 2018/19
Player Total
Callum Paterson 119
Sean Morrison 113
Sam Vokes 109
Aleksandar Mitrovic 95
Steve Mounie 95

Selecting Gunnarsson as the bridge between defence and midfield, and shunting Paterson into the striker's position has improved the efficiency of Cardiff's play.

If they can reproduce their recent home form, they will not make life easy for Solskjaer on his managerial debut for United.

Tomorrow: How Nuno Espirito Santo will approach Liverpool challenge

Also in this series

Part 1: Flexible Eriksen at the heart of Spurs surge
Part 2: Burnley's new shape can pose problems for Arsenal

See: Play for your club in the ePremier League (UK residents aged 16+ only)

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