I’m not sure pre-season ever gives a full indication of how a manager feels about their squad and who fully impressed to earn a starting place for GW1. Even more so with a newly promoted team like Cardiff but I’m going to do my best in this article to come up with what I think will be the starting 11 come GW1 or at least my ramblings on who I think is more favourable to start.
Warnock used a lot of different formations last season as the Championship takes its toll on players with rotation heavy last season. 32 players were used in total so it’s quite hard to judge Warnock’s favoured players and this will be made harder with the new arrivals this summer. Generally last season, Cardiff favoured a 4-3-3 formation where the wingers would be expected to also track back to make a versatile 5-4-1 formation at points. This goes to show the work ethic is some players within the team last season, especially Hoilett and Mendez-Laing who would quite often fill the wing-back roles within the team. This 4-3-3 formation would quite often mould into a 4-2-3-1 formation which is what I’d say is more likely to be our formation going into the Premier League season. 4-3-3 is a very attacking formation which I think Warnock may stray away from it but if he keeps the system of the wingers tracking back, it may stay.
Starting Xl dilemmas!
The graphic above shows an outlay of what the team might look like this season. I’ve just chosen the 4-2-3-1 formation as that’s my gut instinct of what I feel Warnock will favour.
GK- Neil Etheridge (£4.5m) Last season (Championship) 45 appearances, 20 clean sheets, 37 goals conceded
Very impressed last season after Etheridge kept the third highest clean sheets in the league and only missed 1 league game. I think he’s proven to Warnock that he’s at least a top Championship keeper and I think he will get the nod as the first choice keeper, at least at the start of the season.
However, Cardiff have brought in Àlex Smithies from QPR for just over £3.5m. As mentioned in my previous article, I think Warnock must have liked what he saw during his last spell as the QPR Manager. Smithies played 43 games last season and only kept 7 clean sheets, conceding 63 goals but this was in a disappointing QPR team last season where they finished 16th in the Championship. For Cardiff, £3.5m is quite a lot of money so I’m sure he’ll be used this season but not as first choice keeper to start the season. He’s been brought in to bring competition to Etheridge.
RB- Lee Peltier (£4.0m) Last season (Championship) 30 appearances, 1 Assist, 11 Yellow cards, Pass Success rate: 56%, 3.5 clearances per game.
Whilst Peltier is not the quickest of players, he played the most out of the out and out right backs last season. The stat that stands out to me is the 11 yellow cards he picked up last season which isn’t a great statistic to bring with you to the Premier League. I think he might start at right back come Saturday as he has appeared in more than half of the pre-season friendlies. Fellow right back Jazz Richards (£4.0m) only featured 6 times last season and in that short time period mounted up 2 yellow cards. He offers a lot more going forward than Peltier does, but don’t be surprised if he’s not a starting player for Cardiff. I think he’s also priced at £4.0m for a reason.
Bruno Ecuele Manga (£4.5m) Last season (Championship) 38 Appearances, 2 Assists, 4 Yellow Cards, 6.3 clearances per game.
Manga is an interesting player because whilst his favoured position is at centre back, he played at right back quite a lot last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes our starting right back (sorry for all of those with Peltier as a starting £4.0m option, me included!) He offered two assists last season which is 1 more than Peltier and he averaged almost double the amount of clearances per game than Peltier. He seems to be able to get into the best positions when defending over Peltier and his solid defending might earn him a starting place this season. His versatility might be something that Warnock will use this season if injuries hit hard or if a change is needed.
CB- Sean Morrison (Captain) (£5.0m) Last Season (Championship) 39 Appearances, 7 Goals, 1 Assist, 5 Yellow Cards, 7 Clearances per game
Morrison is the main threat going forward for City and this showed in pre-season when he threaded a ball through from the centre of the park to Josh Murphy who scored from the chance. He loves to get forward and has averaged 5 goals a season since joining Cardiff 4 seasons ago. I think at £5.0m he’s a bit of a risk to have but if you have the spare money for your 4th or 5th defender, he may be worth having a punt on. If he was £4.5m I think he’d be straight in my team because he is also the most likely to play each game being the captain of the club as well.
CB- Bamba (£4.5m) Last season (Championship) 46 Appearances, 4 Goals, 1 Assist, 7 Yellow Cards, 8 MOTM Performances, 2.5 Tackles and Interceptions Per game.
I think Bamba is the best out of our central defenders and I think it’ll be hard for anyone in the team to break his partnership with Morrison. He also provides a goal threat with 4 last season and an assist which you don’t always see from a centre back. The main statistic that stuck out for me is his 8 Man of the Match performances last season. He was a rock at the back and his defensive displays pay off quite often. I think he is also nailed to be in the starting line-up which is why I’ve put him ahead of the likes of Connolly and Manga on the graphic. He appeared in every game last season which very rarely happens in the Championship.
LB- Joe Bennett (£4.5m) Last season (Championship) 38 Appearances, 1 Goal, 4 Assists, 7 Yellow Cards,
Bennett was solid last season and provided 5 goal contributions which isn’t bad for a full back but it’s not likely to cut it in the Premier League. If he gets space to roam he could be dangerous but he will have tough competition now with Greg Cunningham signing. I’m sure Bennett will keep his place at the start of the season but if he isn’t up for it then Cunningham will get his chance. However, Bennett played in two Premier League campaigns with Aston Villa from 2012-14 so he does have experience of what the Premier League is like.
Greg Cunningham (£4.5m) Last Season (Championship) 20 Appearances, 1 Goal, 2 Assists, 4 Yellow Cards, 1 Red Card, 12 Yellow cards in 16/17 Season and 9 Yellow Cards in 15/16 Season.
He has a lot to prove after costing us £4m which is a lot of money for us. He seems to like a yellow and red card which isn’t a great sign going into the Premier League. If he does nail down a staring place, he may be one to shy away from if he continues his aggressive play like the last few seasons. I don’t see myself going close to him in terms of FPL this season.
CM/DM: Joe Ralls (£5.0m) Last Season (Championship) 37 Appearances, 7 Goals, 4 Assists, 8 Yellow Cards, 2.4 Tackles Per Game, 1.9 Key Passes Per Game
Being the Penalty taker can draw a lot of eyes towards you in terms of an FPL prospect as we all did last season with Luka Milivojević. I don’t think he’s one to turn your noses away from as his underlying stats are good. He loves to get involved with 2.4 tackles per game which does result in a high 8 Yellow cards but I like the 1.9 Key Passes per game. He clearly has an eye for the right balls through to the forward players and he’s intelligent to get in the best positions to deliver these passes. He’s a prospect in FPL that I’m certainly keeping my eye on as a 4th/5th midfielder.
CM/DM: Aaron Gunnarsson (£4.5m) Last Season (Championship) 20 Appearances, 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 3 Yellow Cards
It was a huge boost for Warnock and City when Aaron returned from the World Cup and signed a new contract to remain with us. Last season was a tough one, after having ankle surgery he was out for a large portion of the season. But he is solid when he sits just in front of the back 4 and he will definitely be a starter this season. I think he has a flair about the way he plays and he can contribute to goals. In the 2016/17 Season, he played 40 games and contributed 3 Goals and 3 Assists. When fit, he is a great asset for us in the middle of the park.
RM: Josh Murphy (£5.0m) Last Season (Championship) 41 Appearances, 7 Goals, 3 Assists, 6 Yellow Cards, 2.8 Shots Per Game
He had a decent season for Norwich for a then 22-year-old winger. The impressive statistic for me is an average of nearly 3 shots per game last season. That’s quite a high stat for a winger which shows how much he likes to get involved with play going forward. This has shown in pre-season as he’s scored for fun and he kept calm and composed with a good finish against Real Betis in our last pre-season game. I’ve been impressed watching him and look forward to what he brings this season. I think he’s proven to Warnock that he should be starting which is tough for someone like Mendez-Laing who is a workhorse and played well last season but I think he gives his place up to Murphy, at least for the start of the season.
Mendez-Laing £5.0m?) Last Season (Championship) 38 Appearances, 6 Goals, 5 Assists, 1.7 Aerial Duels won per game
Laing works very hard for the team and he had to last season where we played in an adaptable 4-3-3/ 5-4-1 formation. I think he will feel gutted if Murphy has taken his starting place this season but I’m sure he will fight for it from the bench. I really like his work ethic and if we can play some good attacking football, he should be able to add some pace off the bench if he’s not starting and he should contribute some goals this season.
LM: Junior Hoilett (£5.5m) Last Season (Championship) 46 Appearances, 9 Goals, 11 Assists, 7 MOTM Awards, 2 Shots Per Game
I think Hoilett is one of the only players in our squad who is proven on the Premier League. He has played in 5 Premier League campaigns with Blackburn and Queens Park Rangers with his best season coming during the 2011/12 Season with Blackburn where he scored 7 goals and provided a further 5 assists. Last season he proved his worth when he contributed to a combined 20 goals. He isn’t our out and out striker but he’s the best attacking player we have in my opinion. I think if he can provide a similar service to last season and the 2011/12 season then he can’t go wrong. He will definitely start on Saturday and I think he’d have to do something outrageous or hit poor form to lose his place in the team.
AM: Bobby Reid (£5.5m) Last Season (Championship) 46 Appearances, 19 Goals, 7 Assists, 9 Yellow Cards, 1.9 Shots Per Game
He has just come from a fantastic season with Bristol City. We have struggled to have a striker that can score consistently and score over 10/15+ a season. I’m looking forward to what he brings this season. He has played really well in pre-season and I think he’s proved himself to start. He makes sure to get shots off at almost 2 per game which is probably more than some Prem strikers from last season. Discipline could prove a problem with 9 Yellow Cards last season so that’s something to keep a close eye on throughout the season. I’ve placed him as an Attacking Mid/ False 9 position almost here in this formation. My gut is telling me that he’ll start just behind Zohore as a supporting striker but I could be wrong. He’ll either play in this position or if Zohore is dropped, I’m sure he’ll play up front where he’ll get the job done. He’s a player I’m really looking forward to watching this season along with Josh Murphy.
Callum Paterson (£5.5m) Last Season (Championship) 32 Appearances, 10 Goals, 4 Assists, 6.2 Aerial Duels won per game
This is the one player that I’m really not sure about if he starts or not. He came to us as a goal scoring right back but Warnock refuses to play him at right back because he can’t defend according to Warnock. His contribution of 10 goals and 4 assists was fantastic last season but I’m not sure who he pushes out of the starting team. If anything, I could see Reid pushed up front and Paterson playing just behind him with Zohore dropping to the bench. Zohore is a hot and cold striker but this is also dependent on what Warnock saw from everyone in pre-season. My gut feeling says he may not start the season in the starting 11 but this opinion could be wrong as well. The stat that has impressed me more than any other statistic for anyone in the team is his average of 6.2 aerial battles per game. He loves to get involved and will more than likely win the ball in the air. So if he doesn’t start then when he does come on, he will come on with a purpose and for a reason. He was the only player to get double figures for goals last season so he will be an asset to the squad with his versatility.
ST: Kennith Zohore (£5.0m) Last Season (Championship) 36 Appearances, 9 Goals, 5 Assists, 0 Yellow Cards, 2.6 Shots Per Game
Zohore is a workhorse which is not something you get from every striker. I hope this continues in the Premier League because he will need to keep working hard to keep his place. He is a hot or cold striker but he bagged 9 goals and 14 goal contributions last season with 12 goals and 5 assists the season before. So, he needs to keep up a similar or better goal tally this season to stay in the starting 11. I think Warnock will stick with him for the start of the season. Goal difference is always a factor as the season draws to a close and I think if Warnock can get his attacking players all scoring and contributing to goals, then I think we could stand a chance of survival, but I also think that we should have signed another striker who has proven themselves in the Premier League in this window but as we edge closer to GW1 it’s looking very unlikely.
Other players who I have failed to mention I don’t think will get much of a look in this season. I think Connolly (£4.0m) is priced so low for a reason. With Bamba, Morrison and Manga as centre back coverage I don’t think he will get a lot of game time. However, if only takes one injury to bring him back into condition so look out and make sure you’re alert of his £4.0m price tag.
There are various midfielders priced at £4.5m such as Danny Ward and Loïc Damour. They are good squad players to have and I’m sure they’ll get minutes from the bench this season but unless major injuries hit, they shouldn’t be anywhere near your FPL teams because Gunnarsson at £4.5m is a better enabler if you need a £4.5m 5th midfielder, unless he gets injured he’s going to play more. The interesting player for some might be Anthony Pilkington. He might sound a bargain for some at £4.5m with 3 Premier League campaigns under his belt at Norwich but he doesn’t seem to be in favour for Warnock as he didn’t play a lot last season. However, I’d keep your eye on him because he played 8 games last season, 7 from the bench but he did score 3 goals and get an assist so when he does get minutes, he will return some points. I’m not sure how much game time he will get, but don’t 100% count him out.
The other two Strikers, Gary Madine and Omar Bogle I don’t see playing a lot. Madine played 13 times last season and only contributed with 2 assists which is poor for a striker. We paid more than £10m for him so unless he shows us something of his form from Bolton, where he scored 10 goals in 28 games before joining us, I don’t see him playing a lot this season.
Below shows the graphic again but with just the starting 11 I think Warnock will go for so don’t shoot me if I’m wrong! The hard decision for me is if Paterson starts, and if he does who gets dropped from the front four!
Looking at the underlying stats has shown me some things I didn’t realise and has opened my eyes more to looking more into FPL options. I think we’ll struggle this season just as much as I’m struggling to come up with our starting 11. I think the key to success will be trying to keep clean sheets at home and trying to grind out wins. We need our strikers scoring even if we don’t get another one in during the last week. It was said in the Planet FFPL Podcast (Series 2, Episode 1) on Monday by James that if we do survive, it will likely be a similar story to Huddersfield last season where we struggle right to the end of the season and only just stay up and a key to this working will be our attacking players scoring regularly and keeping our goal difference as close to the positive numbers as we can.
I hope you enjoyed the article! Good luck with the late tinkering and if you have any Cardiff questions please do ask me on Twitter @FPLHobbs!