When Cardiff City opted to play five centre-backs against the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City, many people were perplexed by former manager Mick McCarthy’s tactical thinking.
As expected, it didn’t work and in those two games, they scored a total of zero goals and conceded seven. He did switch up his system completely in his penultimate game in charge against Fulham last month, a clear admittance that even he realised this experiment hadn’t worked.
You don’t want to discredit the 62-year-old too much, because he’s a proven manager at this level and is likely to have success elsewhere. But when you’re playing Mark McGuinness, Ciaron Brown, Sean Morrison, Curtis Nelson and Aden Flint in the same starting lineup, it shows how desperate he was to keep things tight at the back at all costs.
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What it also showed was their impressive depth at centre-back – and it’s something that the club’s new permanent manager will need to exploit once they are appointed.
This means sticking with a back three, with Morrison, Flint and Nelson potentially the three that will start, with Brown and/or McGuinness on the bench.
This leaves Perry Ng as a right wing-back, with the likes of Joel Bagan and Ryan Giles competing for the starting spot on the other side, not forgetting goalkeeper Alex Smithies to complete the backline.
There’s also plenty of competition in the deeper midfield spots, with Leandro Bacuna able to drop back and join Marlon Pack, Will Vaulks, Joe Ralls and Sam Bowen as options in the middle, providing real competition for those two spots and with that, maximising performance levels.
Now this is where the interesting part comes. Should the new manager adopt a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-4-2-1? Either one sounds promising – but if Bacuna drops back and Giles competes at left wing-back – that leaves the club with slightly fewer options in advanced midfield with Josh Murphy out on loan at Preston North End.
Both may be available to fill that spot if others are ahead of them in the pecking order in their other positions with Rubin Colwill and Mark Harris able to come in, but there’s an opportunity here that’s too good not to explore.
Up top, Kieffer Moore and James Collins are two proven goalscorers. The former scored 20 Championship goals last term for the Bluebirds, with the latter being consistently potent at Luton Town over several years before his move to the Cardiff City Stadium this summer.
He may have had a slow start to life in the Welsh capital, but no one should be writing Collins off yet. If Cardiff can bring in another forward, and it’s a big if considering their current financial situation, they have a real chance to replicate Queens Park Rangers’ model of making their strike force their key strength.
And with the combined goalscoring ability of Moore, Collins and a new forward – there’s no doubt they would shoot up the table at some speed – providing they can sort out their defence.
Even a loan deal until the rest of the season would be sufficient, with Sheffield United potentially being more willing to offload Rhian Brewster to the Bluebirds than Nottingham Forest if they see the former as less of a threat to their promotion push.
Other strikers are also likely to be available, but regardless of who they go for in January, the striking department is one that should be addressed. To provide a rough idea of what this new lineup could look like, here is a graphic to show what McCarthy’s permanent successor may have at his disposal: