Three defeats on the bounce have left Cardiff City in a fairly unfamiliar position in the relegation zone, but with a home match on the horizon and just two points from safety, a typical Warnock escape plan needs to start and Saturday is a crucial opportunity. Manuel Pellegrini’s Hammers are the visitors on Saturday afternoon, a draw with Liverpool, a narrow defeat to Manchester City and two wins in their last five games, the Londoners come into this one with confidence high and a European place in their vision. Another tough afternoon for Cardiff could lie ahead.
The recent history between the two clubs isn’t pleasant reading for Cardiff as West Ham have only lost two of the last 33 meetings dating back to 1950, including winning the last seven matches between the two sides.
The reverse fixture back in December under the lights at Olympic Stadium ended in a 3-1 victory for The Hammers. Cardiff had the better of the first half but squandered a great chance to go into the break ahead as Łukasz Fabiański saved Joe Ralls’ tame penalty after Junior Hoilett was fouled by Marko Arnautović. West Ham took control of the game early in the second half with three goals in a blistering 12 minute spell, a brace from former Arsenal striker Lucas Pérez and a front post header from Michail Antonio put the game to bed in the blink of an eye. Cardiff managed to grab a scrappy consolation goal in added time through Josh Murphy but their disastrous second half performance was a cause for concern ahead of a challenging Christmas schedule.
Key Match-Up: Harry Arter vs Mark Noble
It’s no secret to anyone in attendance in the reverse fixture that one club man Mark Noble ran the midfield rather unopposed. Harry Arter is expected to be back in the starting team, expected to put together a string of tenacious performances in midfield to solidify him his starting place back, he faces a tough contest on Saturday, one that his game ideally matches up against. Noble is a seasoned pro at this level and poses a huge test for the Arter in terms of his tireless work ethic, tough tackling and range of passing. Just like in December, it’s hard to see this game not being decided in midfield, this battle in particular. Two battling midfielders expecting to serve up a fierce battle in the middle of the park.
Predicted Line Ups:
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Morrison, Bennett, Arter, Ralls, Camarasa, Paterson, Decordova-Reid & Niassé.
West Ham: Fabiański, Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Noble, Rice, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Felipe Anderson & Arnautović.
With Cardiff on a run of three consecutive defeats and slumping back into the bottom three, a task facing the attacking flair of Marko Arnautović, Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson could prove the opposite of what Cardiff need to be facing at this time, especially with star defender Sol Bamba ruled out for the rest of the season. Victor Camarasa was involved against Wolves last week after injury and with Harry Arter expected to come back into the team, this injection of quality and energy into Cardiff’s midfield could also be key to the home side getting back on track.