Everton will look to continue their fine recent form when they host lowly Cardiff City on Saturday.
It will be the Bluebirds’ first visit to Goodison Park since their last Premier League campaign in 2013/14, when they were relegated in their first season in the top-flight.
After winning promotion from the Championship last term, Neil Warnock’s side will hope history does not repeat itself this year, but find themselves in the drop zone, albeit only on goal difference.
Their only two league victories this season both came in their last four games, but they are yet to win on the road, and just rock-bottom Fulham have conceded more goals than them.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke to football journalist Jamie Kemble (@JamieKemble), founder of Inside Wales Sport and author of newly-released Bluebird Heaven, which looks back at the last decade for the club:
RBM: Firstly, how do you think Cardiff are coping with the step up to the Premier League?
Jamie: Pretty well. Of course, you’ve got to take this in context and the context here is that Cardiff have only spent £41 million inclusive of wages and bonuses. That’s after only putting together a top-half Championship team last year, so this team should be nowhere near the Premier League standard. However, they’ve learned key lessons well and they have a fighting chance.
The Bluebirds have played almost all of the top teams and they are still only goal difference from safety. In contrast, Fulham have invested heavily in recent years, spent another £110 million this year and are bottom, three points worse off. That may change, of course, but in context, Cardiff are coping very well so far.
RBM: What are the differences between Cardiff this season and the last time they were in the Premier League? Are they better-equipped to survive this year?
Jamie: In short, everything, even the colour! The Premier League, last time around, couldn’t have gone much worse. There was a managerial scandal that cost Malky Mackay his job, fans hated the owner [Vincent Tan] because of what went on with the colour [changing the home kit from blue to red], and generally, there was just a massive discord between fans and the club.
Things were always going to go a little south on the pitch; this was Cardiff’s first crack at it, but it shouldn’t have gone as bad as it did. Appointing Ole Gunnar Solskjær didn’t help and that season would take some real fixing over the subsequent years.
RBM: Neil Warnock has either been sacked or relegated in each season he’s managed in the top-flight. Is he the man to keep Cardiff up?
Jamie: Who knows, but he fully deserved a full go at it. He’s transformed the club from top to bottom and given Cardiff this shot at the Premier League when it seemed impossible. Cardiff shouldn’t even be in this position, so to turn their back on the man who made it possible, however badly things are going, would be outrageous.
Neil has his shortcomings tactically, and he will admit that himself, but you’ve only got to look at the team at his disposal to realise how good a job he’s doing. This team shouldn’t have been promoted amid the big-spenders in the Championship and having only added a few faces, they probably shouldn’t be good enough to stay up, but Neil finds a way.
Some may point you towards more experienced Premier League managers, but I’m not convinced anyone else would get the reaction that Neil Warnock gets from these players.
RBM: With Cardiff winless on the road this season, does Warnock need to change his approach for away games?
Jamie: It’s a tough one. Away games in the Premier League for clubs like Cardiff are always going to be very difficult, in fact, it’s probably what hamstrung them more than anything the last time they were here. Though, I must add that not winning away is hardly an embarrassing statistic when you look at Cardiff’s games on the road so far.
They should have beaten Huddersfield Town [0-0 draw], but take that game out and you have AFC Bournemouth, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hostpur, none of which you’d expect a newly promoted club to win.
I don’t think, with the lack of a star man in Cardiff’s squad, you can go over-complicating things away from home. Cardiff can only be pragmatic and hope to hold out and nick a goal against most teams on the road, and whether that proves enough, who knows. Home form will be key, as it was for Huddersfield and Brighton & Hove Albion last season.
RBM: Last summer, Everton made an enquiry for Cardiff striker Kenneth Zohore, but the Dane has not scored a Premier League goal and has not even made the bench for the Bluebirds of late. Did Everton dodge a bullet there?
Jamie: Kenneth is a true enigma. He came in from the cold to be Cardiff’s star striker, proving many wrong to show his hidden quality. He was vital last season and in the last half of the previous campaign.
However, despite being given an almost exclusive opportunity to lead the line this season, which you would think is most strikers’ dream in the Premier League, he has found it within himself to drop his work ethic, both in training and in games.
Maybe it’s a confidence issues, or maybe it’s something else, but Cardiff haven’t got time to waste this season; they can only use players who are going to give 100 per cent, because that may be the only chance they have of staying up.
Whether Zohore will come from nowhere and prove people wrong again, I don’t know. He certainly has the ability, but he clearly has motivational issues. I must add that he’s been injured in the last two games, hence his omission from the bench.
RBM: How do you expect Cardiff to set up on Saturday?
Jamie: Similar to recent weeks. Etheridge; Bennett, Morrison, Bamba, Manga; Ralls, Camarasa, Gunnarsson; Harris, Murphy; Paterson. (4-3-2-1)
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Jamie: Josh Murphy is a real danger man. He has pace to burn and a technique to back it up. He’ll make it difficult for his full-back, as will Kadeem Harris, who really impressed after getting his first start of the season last time out.
Víctor Camarasa has the best technical quality of the lot, on loan from Real Betis, and he will likely play in the middle. Callum Paterson is proving an awkward customer up front for most defences.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Jamie: Everton should be winning this at home, particularly as they are looking very difficult to break down under Marco Silva. Cardiff don’t have the star quality in attack to do what Chelsea couldn’t last time out. If Everton score early, it may kill this one off, but I’ll say 2-0 with the second goal coming late on.
Our thanks to Jamie for his time.