Cardiff are among the favourites to secure promotion to the Premier League this season after battling to a 2-1 victory over Luton at the weekend.
The Bluebirds suffered a shock defeat away at Wigan in their first game of the campaign, but they steadied the nerves somewhat by vanquishing Luton. Top bookmakers like Heritage Sports reckon they have a better chance of going up than rivals Swansea this season, as Steve Cooper’s men are 10/1 outsiders in the promotion market. Yet the Swans will be encouraged by their start to the season and they could emerge as dark horses in the battle to reach the Premier League.
Wales’ two biggest clubs are playing in the same division for the first time since 2014. Cardiff were relegated that year, leaving Swansea as Wales’ sole representative in the top flight. The Swans’ seven-year stay in the Premier League ended when they finished 18th in 2018, while Cardiff secured promotion to replace them in the division. They battled bravely, despite minimal investment in the playing squad, but ultimately they could not beat the drop.
However, Cardiff should be well prepared for an assault on the Championship in 2019/20. They did not overstretch themselves when it came to wages and transfers last year, meaning they were not saddled with an inflated wage bill and hordes of mercenaries demanding to leave this summer. They have kept virtually the entire squad that came within a whisker of surviving in the Premier League last season, and supplemented it with £15 million worth of talent in the form of Robert Glatzel, Aden Flint, Will Vaulks, Gavin Whyte and Marlon Pack.
Some clubs massively struggle when they drop down to the Championship, but others yo-yo between the top two divisions. West Brom and Norwich are prime examples. It seems like Cardiff were happy to accept a situation like that when they did not go for broke in the transfer market last summer, and now they should be able to reap the benefits of that strategy.
In Neil Warnock, they have a manager who knows how to get the job done in this division, while many of these players also have experience of securing promotion. Flint, Sean Morrison, Callum Peterson and Joe Ralls should form a strong spine, with Neil Etheridge when he returns from injury. Junior Hoilett has the ability to win games with a moment of magic, while the onus will be on Glatzel to fire them up to the Premier League. If he cannot, Isaac Vassell has done enough to suggest he could dislodge the German in the team.
Swansea’s situation looks a little less secure. Graham Potter had them playing some scintillating football last season, and his decision to move to Premier League outfit Brighton, while understandable, was a devastating blow for many fans. Daniel James has also decamped to Old Trafford, robbing the team of arguably their brightest attacking talent. Oliver McBurnie also moved to Sheff Utd and Jordan Ayew went to Crystal Palace, meaning Swansea brought in £35 million, but they spent less than £500,000, as they are still dealing with the financial fallout of their 2018 relegation.
They spent big that season, and they are still paying for it now. Alfie Mawson, Lukasz Fabianski, Sam Clucas, Federico Fernandez, Roque Mesa, Kyle Bartley, Jordi Amat, Ki Sung-yong and André Ayew led the exodus last summer, and now Leroy Fer and Jefferson Montero have also gone, meaning Swansea are unrecognisable from the team that went down less than 18 months ago. That is a difficult situation for 39-year-old manager Cooper to be thrust into, but he does have some talented players at his disposal. Tom Caroll, Mike van der Hoorn and Bersant Celina are all decent, while Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge could still turn it on. It is easy to see why Cardiff are fourth in the betting to be promoted, while Swansea are 14th, but the Swans have taken four points from their opening two games and they will relish the opportunity to defy the odds.