Friday night’s Championship action brings together two sides who would have been hoping for a better start to the season. Six games into the 2019/20 campaign, Cardiff arrive at Derby with the sides – both rated among the favourites for promotion at the outset – sharing a total of three wins so far this campaign. Given that both clubs are among the division’s biggest spenders, that’s not a stat that will give either manager much reason to be cheerful. With that said, given that one of the managers is Neil Warnock, “cheerful” is very much a relative term.
Warnock’s opposite number Phillip Cocu has all the more cause for concern. During his four-year stint at the helm of Dutch giants PSV the former Barcelona midfielder was sized up for bigger things. Given his nation’s reputation as a production line for exciting players and innovative coaches, it wouldn’t have been a shock to see him end up in the dugout at one of Europe’s top clubs. Today, he’s coaching the third-best team in the East Midlands and has just one win in six league games. And that was against Huddersfield. At 49 he may have a few decades of managing in him yet, but his audition for the big time is… not going so well right now.
Bluebirds the “form” team
The good news for Cardiff is that they come into this game off the back of a three-game unbeaten streak in the league. During that run they have, however, lost a League Cup tie at home to Luton (0-3), and the only side they have beaten is a Huddersfield side we are contractually obliged to refer to as “beleaguered”, but it’s better than the run of tonight’s opponents. The Rams’ last league outing saw them travel to Brentford and get scuttled 3-0, and their winless run is all the more concerning for the fact that, West Brom aside, the matches haven’t been against cast-iron promotion contenders.
While this match has been selected for TV on the basis that both sides would have been considered promotion contenders, there is a non-negligible chance that they will both finish the game in the bottom half of the table. With neither side exactly filled with confidence, only the very optimistic would tune into tonight’s action expecting a classic, and the side that emerges with the win is likely to be the one that is more up for a battle. Given that Warnock’s managerial CV is largely just a thesaurus page filled with synonyms for the word “adversarial”, Ladbrokes’ price of 13/8 for Cardiff to win looks like excellent value.
Derby have plenty of potential
In modern football, all it takes is a few bad months for the next big thing to become yesterday’s news, and for Derby County and their manager alike that’s a lesson that has been hard-learned. They sit 19th in the Championship right now – and with a board that isn’t shy about sacking expensively-appointed managers, Cocu will be more than aware of the need to change things for the better soon. He has the managerial talent, and the playing staff, to achieve that but everyone involved needs to start showing what they are capable of. Ideally, that would start tonight.
Derby have six league goals coming into this game, with half of that tally belonging to striker Martyn Waghorn. Aged 29, the former Sunderland trainee has never really lived up to the billing of “the next Wayne Rooney” that accompanied his early efforts for the Black Cats. A brief stint at Rangers aside, he’s rarely appeared in a top-flight team and never scored at Premier League level – but he is a dependable striker at this level, and at 11/5 with Paddy Power, he’s a good bet to score at any time and to add to his three goals so far this season.
A closely-fought clash in prospect
In a game where the sides have, between them, won a quarter of the league matches they have played so far, we’re not likely to see either side play with the fluency that they would have hoped to produce when the season started. Cardiff, one year ago, were in the Premier League while Derby would have been hoping that Frank Lampard’s debut season as a manager would end in them getting there. Both clubs have a huge amount of work on this season to be anything other than divisional also-rans, and while this is a match either side could win, it’s also very much a game that neither will want to lose.
Although neither Derby nor Cardiff are without attacking talent, both teams would be a little disappointed with their goal tallies for the campaign so far, with the visitors being slightly better off having scored seven in six games. The Rams, for their part, have one fewer and it’s evident that even with capable strikers in both teams, both managers have struggled to find a reliable way of providing them with chances. In what we can expect to be a scrappy game, it’s hard not to see that continuing and, with bwin pricing “Under 2.5 goals” at Evens, there’s plenty of reason to take those odds in a match that could be decided by a single goal.