Not only was our opening game of the season a repeat of last year, but our first away trip now has a familiar feel about it too.
Last year’s opening day defeat to Spurs was followed by a newly promoted Huddersfield – and this season is no different, with the Cardiff City Stadium all set to be bouncing tomorrow after their five year wait for Premier League football.
It’s an almost identical start to last season, but let’s hope the points return is better this time around – with us falling to an uninspiring 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield this time last August.
Fortunately, there was plenty positives to take in defeat last weekend. We created chances and deserved a point against one of the league’s top sides. Kenedy looked good, Ritchie was bright and Joselu was much better- but you’d we’ll only get better when Salomon Rondon gets into full swing up top.
On the subject of Rondon, Rafa has a big decision to make. Joselu put in one of his better displays in a black and white shirt against Spurs, but is it realistic to expect more of the same tomorrow from a man who managed just four goals last season? It sounds pessimistic and slightly harsh, but history suggests he’s more likely to frustrate and fail to find the net?
Providing he’s fit enough to start, I’d go with Rondon – but I fear Rafa may stick with Joselu for another week.
Thankfully, Yedlin’s injury isn’t serious, but we’ll have to do without him for this one, meaning Javier Manquillo looks all set to start at right-back – which is a little worrying given their pace out wide and fondness to fling balls into the box.
Here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
Personally, I’d go with Rondon for this one – but I only see Benitez opting for him if he’s fully fit (he looked a little heavy during his 30 minute cameo vs Spurs). Muto could be a handy option to bring on from the bench too, with his movement impressive when he came on last weekend.
Diame was sloppy against Spurs, looking a tad rusty by his high standards set in 2018, but I can’t see Ki coming in for him in a game where we’ll need to match their physicality.
On the subject of combating their physicality, I wouldn’t rule out Federico Fernandez coming in for Clark. It seems unlikely, but his extra height and experience could come in handy.
Last but not least, it’ll be a big game for Manquillo in Yedlin’s absence. He’s yet to impress me defensively and needs to stay switched on – especially when Cardiff will be keen to get the ball out wide and utilise Hoilett and Murphy’s pace.
Predicted NUFC XI – (4-2-3-1) – Dubravka– Manquillo, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett – Diame, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez, Kenedy – Joselu
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in the Cardiff squad:
Kenneth Zohore – The big striker will be their focal point and main target in the box. Has over 20 goals for them in the last two seasons. Expect a big physical battle between him and Jamaal Lascelles.
Josh Murphy – The twin brother of Jacob Murphy and their top scorer (and top performer by all accounts) over pre-season with FIVE goals. Could start after coming on away to Bournemouth last weekend.
Bobby Reid – Could well play just off the striker and will be one to watch. Arrived for £10m over the summer, with him coming off the back of an outstanding year in the Championship – bagging 21 goals and 8 assists with Bristol City.
Lee Peltier – Not the quickest right-back and a player Kenedy could get some joy out of if he’s on his game. Could struggle if the Brazilian really goes at him.
Predicted Cardiff XI – (4-2-3-1) – Etheridge – Peltier, Morrison, Bamba, Bennett – Arter, Ralls – Hoilett, Reid, Murphy – Zohore.
DeAndre Yedlin has been ruled out of this one, with Rafa preferring not to risk him after he landed awkwardly on his knee last Saturday, meaning Manquillo is likely to start.
Salomon Rondon could make his first start, Federico Fernandez is set to be named in the squad but Florian Lejeune is ruled out with an ACL injury.
Cardiff striker Kenneth Zohore faces a late fitness test after missing the opening day, but midfielder Aron Gunnarsson has been ruled out once again.
Harry Arter looks set to make his debut after being ineligible to play against parent club Bournemouth last Saturday.
They’ll be bang up for this and their place will be rocking, so the key will be withstanding the early pressure and looking to silence the crowd with any chances that pop up on the break.
They’re physical, they’ll pump balls into the box and they’ll get into our faces, so we’ll have to match their work rate and stand strong, but hopefully we can outclass them in the ball and get Kenedy, Shelvey and Ritchie into the game as an attacking force.
Provided we start well, I can see us frustrating them and showing that extra bit of quality in the final third.
A low scoring draw would not surprise me, but I back us to take all three points if we can follow Rafa’s game plan and show that extra bit of cutting edge in the attacking third.
Prediction: Cardiff 0-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!