Action Images via Reuters/Ed Sykes
12:30 BST, Saturday 18th August, Cardiff City Stadium, Sky Sports Main Event
Pre-season relegation favourites Cardiff City will play in front of their own fans in the Premier League for the first time since 2014 when they face Newcastle United in Saturday’s early kick-off.
Both sides were defeated on the opening weekend of the season with Neil Warnock’s side going down 2-0 on the south coast at Bournemouth while Tottenham got the better of Newcastle at St. James’ Park.
With fixtures against Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea awaiting the Bluebirds in September, fans will be eager for their side to get their season off the ground before the end of August.
Coincidentally, the Magpies also face the same three sides after this meeting so they, too, will want points on the board sooner rather than later.
Last Time Out
Bournemouth 2-0 Cardiff City
Following an unexpected but deserved promotion from the Championship last season, Warnock’s side entered the 2018/19 campaign full of optimism.
The victory for the Cherries was hard-fought though Eddie Howe’s side were quick to enforce their technical superiority on their opponents, getting on top in the early exchanges.
Ryan Fraser was on hand to fire home a Callum Wilson cutback from close range inside the opening 25 minutes as Bournemouth’s early pressure told.
Wilson had the chance to double the lead from the spot when he picked himself up after being fouled by Cardiff defender Bruno Manga but his effort was stopped by Neil Etheridge in the visitors’ goal.
The forward, though, made amends for his earlier miss when he capped the win in added time, finishing low into the far corner following a low Simon Francis cross.
Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham
Newcastle’s continued off-field uncertainty has hindered preparations for the campaign, as fans struggle with Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club.
Rafael Benitez and his players have tried to put the debacle to one side and focus on on-field performances, but their season got off to a losing start at the weekend when they were beaten by a superior Spurs side.
The visitors took the lead by a matter of millimetres when goal-line technology confirmed that Jan Vertonghen’s header following a corner had gone over.
Newcastle weren’t behind for long, though: Matt Ritchie’s pinpoint cross finding the head of Joselu, who glanced home.
Dele Alli restored Spurs’ lead in a frantic opening twenty minutes, nodding past Martin Dubravka after meeting Serge Aurier’s ball at the far post.
The hosts had chances to level throughout with Mohamed Diame and new signing Salomon Rondon hitting the woodwork and Kenedy wasting a glorious opportunity. Mauricio Pochettino’s unchanged side, though, held on.
Cardiff City Lineup
Neil Warnock’s direct style of play was no match for Bournemouth’s technical ability in central areas and Bobby Reid often cut an isolated figure at the tip of the Cardiff attack.
Josh Murphy replaced Nathaniel Mendez-Laing on the hour mark last weekend and the winger could be in line to start this one.
Sol Bamba sat in front of the back four against Bournemouth, dropping in to form a five when needed but linking the defence and midfield when his side had the ball.
Joe Ralls and Callum Paterson will hope to keep their places in the midfield.
Newcastle United Lineup
Benitez’s side had their chances against Spurs and will feel as though they could have taken at least a point from that game. There were positives and the Spaniard will look for consistency and progression.
Ciaran Clark filled in for the injured Florian Lejeune in the heart of defence and, despite Swiss defender Fabian Schar being recruited over the summer, there is no evidence on the back of Saturday to suggest the Irishman should lose his spot.
Up front, Benitez may be torn between new signing Rondon and Saturday’s goalscorer Joselu, though the physical nature of the Cardiff defence may suit the bigger, stronger Rondon.
Key Battle: Lee Peltier vs Kenedy
The fluid movement of the Bournemouth midfield gave the Cardiff defence a lot to think about last weekend. Ryan Fraser started on the left-wing and the regular interchanging afforded him space and time to score early on.
Newcastle’s style and play through midfield and attack is slightly more linear and rigid, thus the direct matchup between Peltier and Kenedy down Cardiff’s right flank will be one to watch throughout.
Kenedy’s pace and trickery gave Spurs’ Aurier food for thought and the Brazilian will look to exploit his opposite number once more.
Should Benitez start with Rondon in attack, the Venezuelan may turn target man for wide crosses, which Peltier will be tasked with stopping.
Do Cardiff have any chance this season?
The Bluebirds’ surprising hold on one of the two automatic spots in the Championship last season was impressive, though making the jump to the top flight would always be a challenge many see as a step too far.
Summer recruitment wasn’t overly convincing, and it’s highlighted by Warnock’s options up front. Bobby Reid and Gary Madine are both untested and untried in the Premier League and both have lots to work to do to prove their capabilities at this highest level.
Warnock’s record in the second tier speaks but for itself but, in the Premier League, it makes for comparatively less convincing reading.
Cardiff lack the technical ability in the midfield which Bournemouth have already highlighted so early on. However, the back room team must come up with something fast; playing long ball, direct football doesn’t get you far in this division.
Big game for Newcastle?
It’s only the second week of the season but Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off could already prove to be a pivotal match going forwards.
Benitez’s side will host Chelsea and Arsenal either side of a trip to champions Manchester City in their next three after the visit to South Wales – none of which will be appetising, especially if they were to lose on Saturday.
While Newcastle’s season won’t be judged on games featuring the top six, it will, though, be on games such as this one.
Any side who face Cardiff City – especially at this early stage of the season – will be expected to win or at least avoid defeat… but will that bring unnecessary pressure onto Newcastle?
With all the negative press the club received over the summer, a poor opening run of results could see things go from bad off the pitch, to worse on it.
Prediction: Cardiff City 1-1 Newcastle United
Picking up points at home will be crucial for Cardiff this season and Neil Warnock will let his players know that; he will expect his side to gain at least a point in most of their matches at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Both defences will be tested in different ways on Saturday, but with neither side wanting to lose this one, a draw could be a distinct possibility. 1-1.
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