And like that, he was gone. In the aftermath of one painful defeat too many, Manchester United sacked manager Jose Mourinho this week. By the end, all the Portuguese had to hang onto was his records and statistics; in losing one of his most impressive – never having lost to Liverpool before Sunday’s Anfield defeat – there was little keeping him. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was confirmed as interim boss till the end of the season, and his first task is a visit to his former employers Cardiff City.
Neil Warnock may not be very popular with opposition supporters, but his tenure has been extremely successful. Promotion secured and a wobbly start negotiated, they have risen out of the relegation zone. The outlook on this weekend’s clash has changed completely with the managerial change. Our analysis will use statistics to give you the lowdown.
United’s lengthy injury list has shortened with the return of Victor Lindelof and Anthony Martial. Eric Bailly came in as a last-minute replacement for Chris Smalling, but Luke Shaw looks set to miss out still. Alexis Sanchez will remain on the sidelines too. Cardiff are expected to have Jazz Richards and Danny Ward out, but otherwise are relatively free from injuries.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first words to the in-house broadcaster MUTV upon his return to English football were full of the right noises. In contrast to the open criticism of his own players Mourinho peddled, the Norwegian shifted the focus.
“Manchester United is in my heart and it’s brilliant to be coming back in this role. I’m really looking forward to working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club. It’s not about the opposition. It’s about us. It’s about Man United. It’s about our players knowing what they can do. We want to see them express themselves.”
Recent league form
Cardiff: W3, L3 GF: 8 GA: 10
Manchester United: W1, D3, L2 GF: 10 GA: 11
After failing to win any of their first eight matches back in the top flight, Cardiff have now won three home matches in a row. Only Fulham have conceded more goals than Cardiff, but they have outscored six other teams now. Last time out at home, against Southampton, saw their first clean sheet since August.
One win in six league games is a dismal run for anyone, yet alone Manchester United. The last time they went longer with just one league win was two years ago. Defensive frailties have marked this season, with close to two goals conceded on average per game. United may have only won three away games out of nine, but they have scored in every away fixture.
Head-to-head league record
Cardiff wins: 6
Manchester United wins: 14
Cardiff do not have a long history in the top flight of English football, and as such have only faced United on 28 occasions. The last time they beat United, Sir Bobby Charlton had not even made his debut.
United have won five of the last six league meetings between them. Having said that, before Solskjaer’s emotional return as Cardiff boss nearly five years ago, the previous encounter was in 1975. Three of Cardiff’s six wins came before the Second World War.
- Manchester United have posted an 82% passing accuracy rate this season; Cardiff’s is just 63%.
- Despite their apparent disparity in passing abilities, it is United who have allowed more shots per game, with 13.9 to Cardiff’s 13.6
- Although Cardiff (557) make an average of over 400 passes fewer than United (986), they still play more total long balls per game.
- Cardiff’s average possession lasts 3.1 passes, compared to United’s 4.8
Cardiff’s recent form suggests they will be no pushovers. The fact they have managed to win three on the bounce at home despite recording such a poor pass accuracy rate tells a story of their style of play: confrontational, physical and committed. It is entirely understandable for a more limited team to resort to long balls, which may require a little extra height in defence for the visitors.
The feel-good factor of Mourinho’s heavy and depressing spectre no longer hovering overhead is a major factor. Solskjaer’s return with his penchant for attacking football centred around a physical centre-forward should suit the players. Anything other than a win will start the naysayers off already.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Get your copy of the FIRST of two December issues for just ₤4.99 here, or the SECOND of the December issues with an annual membership right here.