The only club in the Championship with a 100% record so far, Cardiff City are sitting pretty at the top of the table after five games, with a three-point gap over nearest challengers Ipswich Town.
That’s all thanks to manager Neil Warnock. Rewinding to October 2016, the Bluebirds had managed just eight points from 11 games under the disastrous stewardship of Paul Trollope, before the 67-year-old gaffer took over the reins.
Warnock revived then-23rd placed Cardiff almost immediately, eventually recording a top-half finish, with their final game of the campaign a 3-0 rout of Huddersfield Town in West Yorkshire.
That was an impressive enough turnaround, but Warnock’s summer recruitment, tactical nous and prior experience means we see them as serious promotion contenders this term.
First off, lets look at the signings…
Summer buys already delivering the goods
The savvy gaffer has brought in a well-balanced mix of proven Football League talents and lesser-known but established players from elsewhere.
The likes of Lee Tomlin and Danny Ward add nous and power up front, while Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (signed from Rochdale) has been sensational in midfield. He’s bagged five goals in seven games since joining, including a stunning individual effort in the 3-0 defeat of Aston Villa.
On the flipside, the signings of Heart of Midlothian prodigy Callum Paterson and tricky midfielder Loic Damour from French side Bourg-en-Bresse add class, creativity and pace.
Versatile Bluebirds drilled for any challenge
Warnock may not be the most flexible character in the game, but when it comes to tactics, he’s far more versatile and intelligent than many give him credit for.
While Cardiff have generally played with four at the back this season, with the imposing pairing of Sean Morrison and Bruno Ecuele Manga in the centre, Warnock has shifted their approach game by game to great effect.
Away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a solid 4-2-3-1 setup saw Joe Ralls and Aron Gunnarsson stifle the creativity of a possession-heavy Wolves side. Meanwhile, the Bluebirds’ wide men provided the pace and trickery needed to punish the hosts on the counter attack, as the visitors ran out 2-1 winners.
On their own patch, a more expansive approach has paid dividends, with the gung-ho 4-3-3 utilised against Aston Villa producing a 3-0 victory for Cardiff – the Villans’ joint-heaviest defeat since their return to the Championship last summer.
Warnock’s track record could prove vital
That’s signalled a very impressive start for the capital club, and in Warnock, they have a manager who knows exactly how to deliver a promotion.
The wily veteran has won promotion from this division with three different clubs, most recently Queens Park Rangers in 2011.
That puts Warnock at a real advantage, with no other boss in the division able to match that record. In fact, only one other current top-six side has a manager who has won promotion from the Championship (Ipswich Town’s Mick McCarthy).
All that suggests the Bluebirds are anything but a flash in the pan. Having won their first five games with a minimum of fuss, you can Cardiff at an appealing 23/10 to beat Fulham at Craven Cottage in their next outing.
As it stands, Warnock’s men are now just 2/1 to secure a return to the Premier League this term, having been 7/1 before the season began. And you can get odds of 13/2 for the South Wales club to go up as Champions.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing