Before Kick-Off

Both sides came into this match having lost their opening day fixture. Cardiff’s return to the Premier League after a 4 season absence ended in a 2-0 defeat to Bournemouth in a match they found very difficult. Newcastle, on the other hand, faced a tough test in Spurs and gave a spirited performance and were unlucky not to get at least a point.

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock has previous history with Rafa Benitez. He made accusatory comments towards the Magpies boss back when the Spaniard managed Liverpool and Warnock Sheffield United. The accusation was that Rafa fielded a weakened side against Sheffield United’s relegation rivals Fulham, losing that match to leave the Blades on the brink of relegation. He chose to downplay the feud in his pre-match presser ahead of this game.

They key intrigue for this game would be how Newcastle would deal with Cardiff’s play style. No pretty football was expected from the Bluebirds who gained notoriety for a very direct play style that gained promotion. Newcastle would be in for a battle in Wales.


Starting XIs

When Newcastle Had the Ball

Newcastle struggled to create chances from open play. They mostly had joy through Shelvey playing quick balls within seconds of receiving a pass to try catch Cardiff’s defence out. However, the Bluebirds’ back-line positioning was narrow and organised as they snuffed out most passes. Joselu and Ayoze were willing runners in anticipation of those passes with 3 of their combined 5 efforts coming from a Shelvey ball. In terms of flank play, Newcastle made frequent attempts to play down the right hand side, 45 % of the attacks initiated there with Manquillo and Ritchie combining on occasion. They were met with a resolute defensive pairing in Bennett and the excellent Josh Murphy who snuffed out any danger.

Cardiff’s shape when Newcastle had the ball was narrow. They didn’t allow many gaps for Ayoze or Joselu to exploit, seemingly having done their homework on the threat Shelvey posed. When Newcastle did have the ball in the attacking third Cardiff’s defence were quick to close down, either dispossessing Newcastle or forcing them into passing errors. Manga, predominantly a centre back, was tasked with Kenedy as a right back in the match. He made 6 clearances and 3 tackles as he locked down the Brazilian.  Ralls and Arter also helped in disrupting Newcastle with 10 tackles between them in a tenacious display.


When Cardiff Had the Ball

Cardiff identified Newcastle’s right hand side as their main area to attack. Hoilett playing on the right was not getting much change out of a resolute Dummett but it was a different story for Jacob’s twin Josh Murphy against Manquillo. Cardiff launched 43% of their attacks down that side with Murphy giving Manquillo a torrid time on his own with Bennett, similar to Dummett, unwilling to stray too far from his defensive post.

Cardiff’s strategy was to kick the ball long from any presentable situation to do so, be that from indirect free-kicks won in their defensive third or straight from the goalkeeper. Their back 5 launched a total of 54 long balls to implement this. With Zohore dueling against Newcastle defenders, he won many fouls from long balls to give Cardiff chances off a set piece. To that effect, Zohore won 5 aerial duels and earned 4 free kicks for his team.

Newcastle’s shape when Cardiff had the ball was a familiar one. An organised low block with Diame and Shelvey roaming around looking to press and intercept any Cardiff movement which came central. Diame had a poor game in terms of his passing distribution was but was his usual self in terms of defensive work-rate. Clark and Lascelles dealt with the set-piece danger with relative ease, making 12 clearances between. Although Zohore did manage to find himself with a free header on a couple of occasions.

By the Numbers

StatsCardiff CityNewcastle
Shots On Target16
Key Passes95
Pass Accuracy64%59%
Deep Passes Completed33
Dribbles Won94
Tackles Won2111
Aerial Duels won3531
Passes Per Defensive Action5.06.29
Expected Goals1.161.55
Expected Points1.011.70

Note: Stats are sourced from understat and whoscored.

How the Best Chances Happened

39’ Ayoze Volley

Following some superb defensive work from Lascelles and Diame, Newcastle settled into a short-passing sequence of play with lots of movement from Shelvey, Diame, and Ritchie to occupy Cardiff players. Eventually, Lascelles played the ball to Shelvey on the right wing and Jonjo had a lot of room to line up his cross. The reason for this was Manquillo, whose tendency to drive forward occupied the attention of Murphy, leaving Shelvey unoccupied on the right. Manquillo was higher up the pitch than Ritchie when Shelvey crossed.

It was a superb ball matched by great movement from Ayoze who peeled away from the attentions of the centre backs to find himself free to take a volley. Cardiff stopper Etheridge assessed the danger well and was able to position himself to block Ayoze’s shot without letting the ball travel more than a couple of yards. A rare high quality move in the match.

53′ Zohore Header

After a loose ball in the middle Camarasa’s quick thinking sent the ball down Newcastle’s left flank to Hoilett. Dummett stood firm against Hoillett forcing him to pass it back to Ralls.  Diame and Kenedy did not double down the flank in support of Dummet quickly enough so Ralls had time to pick out a cross to Zohore. Clark had strayed too wide to try help Dummett and Lascelles had moved into the Irishman’s defensive zone to mark Camarasa leaving Hayden to mark Zohore. Zohore’s movement was too clever for Hayden as he got ahead of him for a free header but he got it horribly wrong and it went wide. A lucky break for Newcastle who did not deal well with the danger out wide.

Key Tactical Points

  • Tackling disparity

Cardiff’s game plan worked to a treat. They set out to frustrate the Magpies both with their direct play and their tenacity in the tackle. The defensive work in particular unsettled Newcastle and the Magpies didn’t manage to find a solution in the game. 21 tackles to Newcastle’s 11 with the main victims of those being Kenedy and Diame, 9 dispossessions between them. This shows both Newcastle’s struggles to create on the left and the lack of press resistance from Diame that would otherwise allow Newcastle to build attacks.  Of the top 5 tacklers in the game, 4 were Cardiff players with Diame coming in 5th, amassing just two tackles.


  • Murphy vs. Manquillo & Hayden

Newcastle will be wondering if they signed the wrong twin after a 45-minute showing during which the ex-Liverpool defender was given a torrid time by the winger. Manquillo could not cope with his pace, often having to recover from poor positioning to catch up to him. This culminated in a yellow for the right back against Murphy, and he was lucky to not be penalised for a shirt pull on him later in the half.

Hayden was always going to find it tough when replacing Manquillo at half-time, given that he is far from a natural right back. The 20 minutes he lasted on the pitch were a mixed bag. He showed decent aggression to win 1 tackle and make 1 successful interception to nullify Murphy more effectively than the man he replaced. Things got progressively worse for Isaac and the challenge from behind for the dismissal showed his aggression was not controlled, and he can have little complaint against the outcome of his foul on Murphy.

Man of the Match

Newcastle MotM: Jonjo Shelvey

Newcastle struggled to impose themselves tactically and force Cardiff back, which meant that not too many players shined in the match. Kenedy, Manquillo, and Hayden (in particular) had afternoons to forget. Shelvey takes this award because anything positive in an attacking sense for the Magpies came through him. Newcastle made 5 key passes in the match, all from Shelvey. He was taking pressure off the defense by trying a long ball within seconds of receiving a pass, hoping that Joselu or Ayoze could make them count. It seems to be a recurring theme that Shelvey is the heartbeat of any creativity managed, and has added defensive work-rate and discipline to his game which was on display again today.

A noteworthy mention for Jamaal Lascelles. His organisation was on show as usual and after the red card he marshaled the Newcastle defensive superbly, guiding Murphy and Diame to cover that vulnerable right hand side. This ensured Cardiff didn’t make Newcastle pay for their numerical disadvantage.


Cardiff MotM: Josh Murphy

Cardiff had a number of impressive performers. Ralls and Arter in the engine room, Manga and Etheridge at the back were effective. Murphy takes this one because of his contribution to carry out Cardiff’s plan alongside Zohore. He unsettled Newcastle by time and time again getting the better of his full back, his end product was lacking but in a match where quality was found wanting that didn’t harm his scorecard. Cardiff using him as an outlet for their direct approach worked well, with Zohore’s poor finishing allowing Newcastle to snatch a very hard-earned point.

In Conclusion

Given the tough opening 6 games on the calendar, this was the one match fans had identified as a must for 3 points. The biggest disappointment besides failing to win was the ease at which Cardiff carried out their tactics. Newcastle could not cope with the controlled aggression of Cardiff and did not take their 2 or 3 presentable chances that would have forced Cardiff into a re-think and perhaps made the match easier for Newcastle to dominate. Etheridge does come out with credit for his saves, but Newcastle did not show enough quality either.

Cardiff can be pleased with their efforts. If they had a little more quality upfront this could have been a victory for them. Zohore was a willing runner but his finishing was the difference between that of a regular premier league forward and a striker who has been used to dealing with championship defences.

There are questions to take forward from this performance:

  1. How long can Diame last in the XI? He was still good defensively but does he hinder the attacking transitions too much? Towards the back end of last season he was showing form both offensively and defensively but in the opening two games so far he has been inconsistent. Does that mean Ki has a place in the XI?
  2. Can Newcastle show enough quality this season to take the game to opposition of similar level? When facing the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea et al Rafa’s side always have a game plan that seems to work well, regardless of the result. When the onus is on them to take the game to their opposition more attacking intent and composed passing play need to be on show. The performance against Cardiff was lacking in that respect. It will be an interesting appraisal of the performance against the likes of Brighton, Huddersfield, and Watford in future games to come.