On December 28th, Sunderland travel to the Cardiff City stadium to take on Cardiff City. In a game of teams that will both be fighting off relegation, the teams are coming off results sending each other in opposite directions. Cardiff is coming off a heavy defeat to Southampton whilst Sunderland are coming off a shock victory at Goodison Park. With Malkay Mackay sacked and Vincent Tan making all the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Cardiff are desperate for a victory.
Both teams are in good shape injury wise, if not points wise. Cardiff City are without only one player, Premier League and Cardiff boy Craig Bellamy. Sunderland are without a few more players but are still in pretty good shape. The black cats will be without veteran center back, Carlos Cuellar, who is out with a long term injury. Another veteran center back, John O’Shea, will be facing a late fitness test. Sunderland will also be without goalkeeper Kieran Westwood who looks to have lost his starting spot to in form goalkeeper, Vito Mannone.
Sunderland and Cardiff City have never played each over in the Premier League before. Sunderland are the only team in the Premier League who do not have someone with three or more Premier League goals. Sunderland are three games unbeaten in the Premier League and four games unbeaten in all competitions, their longest such streak of the season. Cardiff will be trying to avoid losing three consecutive league games for the first time all season.
For Sunderland to continue their good run, Ki will need to be central in their play. After being bought from Celtic in the summer of 2012, the South Korean was shipped out to Sunderland on loan for this season and has made a big impact. Ki has added quality on the ball in the center of the park, something Sunderland have lacked. Ki has had some slaloming runs through the center of the park cutting through defenses and showing some great ball control and balance. Ki’s ability to hold onto the ball in the middle of the park is immense for a team that usually does not see too much of the ball in a match. Now since they will be facing a team that is closer to them in terms of the table and quality, it will be interesting to see what Ki and other ball players, like Emmanuele Giaccherini, can do with more of the ball.
After not scoring more than a single goal in a game since November 24th, Cardiff will need to start scoring more goals and Peter Whittingham could be instrumental in doing that. Cardiff pride themselves in being well coached, very organized, and very good on set pieces. To be that good on set pieces you need a player with great delivery and Petter Whittingham is that man, for Cardiff. Whittingham has created 24 chances from set pieces this season, including four assists. Whittingham also shows his quality in his crossing ability, completing 27% of his crosses. When Cardiff get set pieces, they need to take those set piece opportunities and turn them into good chances and hopefully goals.
While this game is not going to be the most publicized, this is a big game as it is a classic six pointer. Cardiff will want to get the focus off of the owner and sacking of manager and back onto the product on the pitch and a win vs Sunderland can help do that for them. However this is easier said than done and losing their influential manager could deflate Cardiff further. Sunderland will buoyed by the news and for the first time in weeks, it is possible for Sunderland to lift themselves out of the relegation zone, if other results go their way. Both teams will be highly motivated and, while this game any not bring the most beautiful football, expect big time energy and intensity from both teams. With the negativity surrounding Cardiff at the moment – I feel Sunderland will take all three points here.