First weeks can’t go much better than Valerien Ismael’s. In the first seven days after taking over as head coach of a Barnsley side yet to win this season, he masterminded them to not one but two victories; first a 3-0 dismemberment of Queens Park Rangers, followed by claiming the equally impressive scalp of Watford.
But most impressive of all has not been the results, but how quickly his impact has been felt on the way the team plays. Ismael’s style is an evolution from that of predecessor Gerhard Struber, with his high pressing added to by an extra intensity and rapid forward progression of the ball, and the players have soaked it all in quickly and are putting it into practice remarkably effectively.
Those results have charged the Reds up the table, ahead of a Cardiff City side who they travel to on Tuesday night. It’s been a tough start to the season for the Bluebirds, who were in the play-offs last term but have won just twice so far, with no victories in their last four.
After a trio of come-from-behind 1-1 draws, manager Neil Harris saw things reach a nadir last weekend with a 3-2 defeat at QPR. He said after that loss that he had “never been this angry after a game”, especially with a first half as poor as any under his watch, and a response is crucial if they are to start pushing their way back up to the right end of the table, not least with a Friday night showdown with Bristol City last up before the international break.
Last season’s success has heightened expectations in the Welsh capital and applied extra pressure, not least from the boardroom, and their slow starts and sloppy mistakes are adding up. There is time for wrongs to be righted, but if things don’t change soon the club may look for their own new boss to turn it around.
Cardiff could have some boosts to their forward options, with Robert Glatzel back in training and a decision set to be made late on whether Harry Wilson will be available to feature. Defender Filip Benkovic is also fit.
Wing-back Callum Brittain will be out for Barnsley with a hamstring injury picked up last Saturday against Watford, joining Cauley Woodrow, Jordan Williams and Romal Palmer on the sidelines.
Cardiff: Smithies; Bacuna, Morrison, Nelson, Bennett; Vaulks, Pack; Ojo, Ralls, Hoilett; Moore.
Barnsley: Walton; Sollbauer, Helik, Andersen; Styles, James, Mowatt, Odour; Chaplin, Schmidt, Frieser.
What the managers have said
Cardiff boss Harris believes that his team’s recent struggles are largely a mentality issue, and says that it is up to him to bring the right mindset back to his squad.
“I can’t say to you exactly why we’ve gone behind in so many games,” he said. “For me, its mentality. We’ve got a brilliant group of lads, I love working with them every day won’t you find many people with a bad word to say about any of my players, but it’s just that mentality when they go onto the pitch.
“We certainly had that concentration and that focus (last season), from November and certainly from June. We have to regain that quickly and that’s my job, to find that within the changing room, and ultimately pick the right team selection and tactics to win games.”
Barnsley are on a high right now after Ismael’s bright start in the job, but the Reds head coach has identified the areas in which he wants to drive further improvement.
“We have a very good base here,” said the Frenchman. “But our fitness and energy levels must improve if we are able to maintain our performances.
“At 60 minutes we notice a difference in the games and so there is always much to work on. But with my staff I know we can get better.
“My players are open to what we are doing. And with some of them, we see quick results. But it’s been a week. We have lots of time ahead of us. It’s a process.”
Barnsley have been happy opponents for Cardiff in recent times, with the Welsh side winning the last four meetings and losing only one of the past 12.
It was far from smooth for the Bluebirds the last time they hosted Barnsley, however, with an injury-time Lee Tomlin goal required for a 3-2 win.