After the heartbreak of a controversial, late loss against Chelsea, attention quickly turns to the daunting trip to face Manchester City on Wednesday. It is a fixture where everyone is fearing a hiding even if Cardiff bring their A game. But what if they don’t bring their A game? What if they don’t even bring their A team?
In his pre-match press conference on Friday, Neil Warnock quipped; “I think we can keep the score down at Man City, I think we can keep it to single figures. But I might play the reserves down there, it’ll be interesting to see what the journalists think of that.”
Where to start on this one. Firstly, I hope it was a quip.
I imagine if you were to canvass opinion on this, you would probably divide the room. With a massive trips to Burnley and Brighton within the next week or so, there is a school of thought that it would be wise to treat the City trip like an unwanted FA Cup tie and pick the stiffs, while keeping the first team fresh for more ‘winnable’ games.
This is not a school of thought I subscribe too, for many different reasons.
Firstly, Cardiff are coming off the back of a three-week break. If anything, they looked a little rusty in the opening stages against Chelsea. With only seven vital games remaining, are they really going to start picking and choosing which of those games they’re going to show up for?
There is also the integrity of the competition to consider. With the mostly hotly contested title race in years, there would be a massive fallout should Cardiff field a weakened team against the reigning champions. It would also be a PR disaster, at a time when Cardiff are already being dragged through the mud due to their tawdry, public dispute with Nantes.
Also, do they want to run the risk of a real spanking? They would be playing with fire by risking facing Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side with a bunch of fringe players. After a new year dip, they have returned to form and restored some pride over the last few games. That could quickly vanish if they approach this game in a nonchalant manner.
There is also the hundreds of travelling fans to consider. They were not parting with their time and money to witness a procession or a glorified reserve fixture. They deserve better.
This is just my opinion and others are available, but this approach would not sit well with me. I’m willing to accept a weakened team in the FA Cup, but even that makes me uncomfortable. Football is supposed to be about glory and if you don’t give it your all, then what’s the point?
I know Cardiff are thin in numbers, so there is not a great deal of scope for too much rotation anyway, but if they do go down, I don’t want it to be with any regrets. They may well need to focus on the bigger picture, but I hope that does not translate as Rhys Healey lining up at one end and Alex Smithies at the other.