AFTER a four season hiatus, the Bluebirds make a relatively unexpected return to English football's top flight this Saturday at 3pm.
It was a well fought promotion campaign that few would begrudge Cardiff. It was however, one that even the most optimistic of the ‘blue-army' contingent would not have foreseen at the start of the season. The welsh-capital club posted enough points to generate the prize however, which is a chance to battle it out against some of the best players in the world on a weekly basis for the 2018/19 season.
The first challenge for Cardiff comes with a visit to AFC Bournemouth, who are now attempting to consolidate a fourth campaign in the top division. A 12th placed finish last season was seen as a fantastic finish for the Cherries, and Eddie Howe will be hoping to post some points on the board at the Vitality Stadium come Saturday tea-time.
Bournemouth have had the more challenging pre-season schedule, with hints of promise being suggested through wins against Marseille, Amiens and Levante, amongst other draws or defeats against solid opposition. Neil Warnock's men favoured a more leisurely tour of Devon and Cornwall against less high profile opposition, as well as Rotherham United, Burton Albion and then culminating in a narrow defeat at the hands of a fairly full-strengthed Real Betis.
Despite Cardiff's pre-season results not instantly demonstrating any momentum-building, it has been widely reported that the solidarity and togetherness that undoubtedly assisted with Cardiff's promotion push last term has continued throughout these past weeks. Warnock has been quoted as hoping to ‘ruffle a few feathers' in this premier-league campaign, although will it be the Bluebirds themselves that end up getting their feathers ruffled here against Bournemouth?
From a betting perspective, it can be a tough call at the start of any season and this match is no different. Low stakes here would be recommended. Bournemouth are most certainly an established Premier league outfit, and have strengthened well in the Summer, with Diego Rico being signed from Leganes, which firms up their back-four options, as well as the brimming talent of midfielder David Brookes from Sheffield United, whose precautious attacking firepower from the outsides of the park, along with the experience of Jermaine Defoe and last season's top-scorer Callum Wilson, will put many sides under pressure this season.
Bournemouth have also had good squad retention from last season and with their regulars being on show yet again here, this will be a tough nut for Cardiff to crack. Cardiff have also retained the vast majority of their squad from last season, although despite the likes of Sol Bamba, Aaron Gunnarson, Calumn Patterson and Kenneth Zohore being evidently excellent Championship players, they have not yet established their worth in the Premier league just yet.
New singing Bobby Reid, who scored 19 goals last season for Bristol City in the Championship, adds some further attacking impetus for the Bluebirds and he will most certainly be given a decent role in this fixture. The 11th-hour transfer deadline-day loan signing of Harry Arter is an excellent acquisition for Cardiff, however he will be ineligible to play here against his parent club.
So where does the value lie here? Well, since Bournemouth had one of the worst clean-sheet records last season in the Premier League, with only 6 clean sheets throughout their campaign, it is evident that Bournemouth can be got at. There is a small difference in class between these two sides, although it is certainly not a gulf in class, in my opinion.
Cardiff like to play with a real positivity and have some serious pace in the side courtesy of forward Nathaniel Mendez-Liang and the previously mentioned Bobby Reid. On paper, Warnock may think that this is a game that they could potentially get something from and I can see this game being an open one, since Bournemouth are also famed for free-flowing football.
My first tip here is for both teams to score, which tempts at 10/11 (Ladbrokes). Cardiff's defense was neither airtight throughout pre-season, nor when facing top-level Championship teams last term. Cardiff's defense is fairly unchanged from those games, and it is highly conceivable that the Cherries will net at the Vitality on Saturday.
There were also brief flashes of defensive disorganisation in the City defense these last few weeks during pre-season and I can see Bournemouth breaching the visiting goal more than just the once. Cardiff opened up their 2017/18 season with a narrow win against Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium, however I cannot see a Cardiff win in this, their 2018/19 season opener.
I will however, put my neck out and predict that Cardiff will also be capable of sneaking a goal at some point during the 90 minutes, and depending on how luck falls on the day, possibly more than one goal. There are a few outlets where these goals may come from for Cardiff, and the potential for at least one of these coming from a set-piece is a distinct possibility to my mind. A scrappy goal from a corner or a free kick would have Warnock fist-pumping from the sidelines, and I can see just that happening.
For all the openness of this game, I can ultimately see the points being shared, with both side's early season sharpness, or a lack thereof, being put into question through several chances being squandered, in addition to those being taken. The 2-2 correct score, at a tasty 16/1 (Ladbrokes) could be a possible long shot, which landed 6 times for Bournemouth last season. Cardiff are also no strangers to an away-draw (5 landing last season in the Championship) and at the final whistle I can see there being very little to separate these two sides. Despite both sides contributing to what is expected to be a thrilling season-opener, with both nets bulging throughout the afternoon, I predict that the end result will eventually be a draw.
Given that I anticipate both sides scoring, with both sides also capable of netting twice, then I think that there may be some value in the 16/5 (Ladbrokes) about ‘Both Teams to Score and Over 3.5 goals'. As previously advised, this may be a match for low stakes, although these three punts could provide some profit come the final whistle.
Good luck for your Saturday's bets!