Cardiff City do have a relatively small squad, and have relied heavily on a select group of players to continue the play-off push, even after the gruelling exploits of the Carling Cup. It`s abundantly clear that Malky Mackay is not happy with the depth of squad available to him, and several players he inherited from the Dave Jones era have been largely sidelined.
However, despite the claims of a small squad, Cardiff City are able to put our two starting XI`s which would surely be very competitive in the Championship. Mackay`s favoured formation and line-up is as below:
McNaughton, Hudson, Turner, Taylor
Cowie, Gunnarsson, Whittingham
This is a narrow formation, with no natural width. With Kenny Miller up front on his own, we need the midfield to be creative, support him in the box and to get Joe Mason on the ball in dangerous areas. This gameplan has been excellent at times, but looked ineffective since the turn of the year.
The players left-out of that line-up, however, fit very nicely into a conventional 4-4-2 system and you`d have to wonder which would triumph over the other given current form, fitness and confidence.
Quinn, Gerrard, Blake, Naylor
Harris, Kiss, Ralls, Conway
The above ‘second XI` has a very balanced feel to it, with natural players on the flanks in Harris and Conway. Winger Harris is pacy, unpredictable and raw while wideman Conway is a clever footballer and accurate crosser rather than a winger. Up-front is the little-and-large combination that has proved successful for decades. Crucially, every player knows their roles and responsibilities. The back four all have significant experience at this level, while Kiss, Ralls and Conway in midfield have all impressed at times this season before falling completely out of favour!
I think the above illustrates that Malky Mackay has become too reliant on individuals like Miller, Whittingham and Cowie. None of whom fit perfectly into our systems. Whitts is phenomenal on his day, most effective in a central area – but does he have the physique to play in a midfield two? Malky thinks not. Miller is a goalscorer, but not a target man and needs support. His form has suffered badly. Cowie has a fantastic engine, but does not offer enough in a central role, and does not appear comfortable on the right wing. Can we afford an ‘extra man` in midfield?
Cardiff City fans will notice that on-loan midfielder Liam Lawrence did not make it into either XI. He is currently in favour, and did well against Millwall but he looks best on the right side of midfield – again not fitting in with our current system.
Malky Mackay has a clear idea of what he wants, and trusts his favoured personnel to deliver it. It does seem to me that we have alternative options, incredibly useful when form or confidence dips/fatigue hits, but have perhaps not utilised the squad to its maximum potential.
One thing noticeable with both formations is that neither looks at their strongest in the final third – presumably hence our recent lack of goals !