With the Football League kick-off just days away, this series of articles takes a closer look at the 24 teams vying for the £100 million Premier League bonanza.
Champions in 2013 under Malky Mackay, Cardiff are widely seen as favourites for promotion and the championship this season. This time it will be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s task to try to lead the bluebirds back to the Premier League after failing in his bid to keep them up last year.
Solskjaer has acted fast in solving what he perceives to have been the problem last season: a lack of goals. Javi Guerra has been brought in from La Liga on a Bosman free transfer, Adam Le Fondre has joined from Championship rivals Reading, and ex-Manchester United reserve Federico Macheda has been snapped up after his contract at Old Trafford expired. Add to this the proven Championship quality of Nicky Maynard, Joe Mason and the unpredictable Kenwyne Jones and Cardiff should not worry for goals with the likes of Peter Whittingham, Craig Noone and Jordon Mutch providing the ammunition.
While the bluebirds attacking options have been bolstered - ensuring the loss of Fraizer Campbell to Crystal Palace should not be felt - Solskajer hasn’t yet addressed the real issue at the heart of Cardiff’s relegation last season: the defence.
It cannot be denied Cardiff didn’t score enough last season (second lowest scorers in the division with 32), nor can it be ignored they conceded far too many (second highest in the division with 74). The loss of Steven Caulker weakens the defensive options, although the likes of Ben Turner, Matt Connolly and ex-club captain Mark Hudson are all proven in the Championship, yet Solskjaer’s summer long pursuit of Southampton Jose Fonte indicates he isn’t completely happy with the options.
Nevertheless Solskjaer looks to have done decent business this summer and the retention of goalkeeper David Marshall may prove as significant as the incoming business.
On paper Solskjaer has a strong squad at his disposal and the favourites tag is not unjustified. However, the Norwegian has yet to win over critics in South Wales and he must finally show he can instill some organisation and a clear playing identity on the pitch, something he failed to do last season as the bluebirds surrendered their Premier League status in meek and purposeless fashion.
Last Season: N/A (relegated from Premier League)
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Transfers In*: Javi Guerra (Real Valladolid, free), Guido Burgstaller (Rapid Vienna, undisclosed), Federico Macheda (Manchester United, free), Adam Le Fondre (Reading, undisclosed), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace, free), Charlie Horton (unattached)
Transfers Out*: Steven Caulker (QPR, undisclosed), Jordon Mutch (QPR, £6 million), Fraizer Campbell (Crystal Palace, £900,000), Andrew Taylor, Don Cowie (both Wigan, free), Ben Nugent (Yeovil, loan), Jo Inge Berget (Celtic, loan), Joe Lewis (Blackpool, loan), Filip Kiss (Ross County, loan), Simon Lappin, Tommy Smith (released), Craig Bellamy (retired)
One To Watch: Mats Moller Daehli (attacking midfielder)
Ex-Manchester United trainee Daehli, signed from Molde in January 2013, was one of the few bright sparks in Cardiff’s disastrous debut Premier League season.
A skillful and direct attacking midfielder, the 19-year-old Norwegian international has been compared to Manchester City’s David Silva in his style of play, is considered one of Norway’s brightest young talents and believed to have the potential to become Norway’s best ever player.
Daehli is still some way short of that status and will need to improve significantly the quality of his decision making and final ball in front of goal, but he has the talent to light up the Championship and provide the creativity to spark another promotion challenge for the Bluebirds.
Selected Odds: Champions 7-1 joint fav; Promotion 11-4 fav; Relegation 40-1
Opening Fixtures: Blackburn (A), Huddersfield (H), Wigan (H)
*Correct at the time of writing