Neil Warnock has described this campaign as the best and worst season of his career. With only two league games remaining for Cardiff, the Bluebirds continue to fight to extend their Premier League status, however remote that chance now is. However, the Welsh side were forced to overcome unfathomable grief following the sudden death of their club-record signing, Emiliano Sala.
That alone had the ability to skew the team’s efforts to stay in the Premier League, but typically, and much to the credit of Warnock and his players, the club have unified and persisted with their endeavours to stay in the division in Sala’s memory. Regardless of whether the Bluebirds remain in the division or not, they deserve immense praise for their performances this season.
Cardiff placed 15th for the most money spent in the summer transfer window with £29m on additions most of whom were devoid of Premier League experience before moving to the Welsh capital. Contrastingly, the other promoted Championship sides had spent a combined total of £164m on summer recruits (£105m Fulham, £59m Wolves) – an indication of their lessened financial muscle and pulling power in the market.
Despite being dwarfed by Fulham’s expenditure in the summer transfer window, Cardiff have performed admirably – attaining three more victories, and eight points more than the Whites. Also, without disrespecting the Cardiff players, or devaluing the endeavours of Warnock and his backroom staff, a glimpse of their team doesn’t give the impression of a Premier League outfit.
Victor Camarasa leads the internal scoring charts at Cardiff with five Premier League goals, while three players, two of whom are injured for the remainder of the season (Sol Bamba and Callum Paterson) have scored four goals. The Cardiff team is bereft of goals, averaging fewer than a goal a game, while almost conceding an average of two goals per game – yet they refuse to yield hope of remaining in the division.
The standard of officiating in the Premier League has been questioned numerously throughout the season and Cardiff in particular have felt the brunt of officials’ incompetence. Important, and wrong decisions went against the Bluebirds during significant games such as Chelsea (Cesar Azpilicueta’s goal), Burnley (Ben Mee’s handball) and Watford (failing to award a blatant penalty). Had these calls been made correctly, the Premier League table would alter markedly in its appearance – such marginal difference between triumph and defeat can severely thwart a team’s survival hopes.
Even if Cardiff fail to remain in their division, thanks to astute business in the transfer market and Warnock’s pragmatic strategy the Bluebirds have a core of players who’d seemingly excel in the Championship. Cardiff possesses a somewhat favourable concoction of power and pace, physicality and brawn, with the odd sparkle of technicality and flair.
As is often the case with Warnock’s teams, Cardiff are physically imposing and have proven capable to frustrate opposition with their almost unparalleled physicality and unapologetic insistence on playing direct football. The experiences that the Bluebirds have attained this term having been formative, and seemingly, Cardiff would be far better equipped to stage a return to England’s top-flight if relegation awaits them than last time.
Despite operating with limited financial resources and having faced unimaginable loss, Cardiff are still standing, and they continue to fight defiantly. For a team so devoid of top-flight experience it’s startling that safety is still a possible outcome for the Bluebirds, and if they prolong their Premier League status, it would be utterly miraculous.