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Glen Williams

Erol Bulut implements two tactical changes immediately to get Cardiff City scoring again

One should warn against reading too much into Cardiff City's first two pre-season games, especially against Cymru Premier opposition.

Even so, they can be useful from a supporters' standpoint, especially when there is a new manager in the dugout and fans desperately trying to find out what his Bluebirds team will look like.

Well, there are a couple of things which have stood out already. Tactical tweaks that Erol Bulut has already tried to implement in a fortnight in order to get City's scoring numbers up off the basement floor as they were last season.

READ MORE: Erol Bulut confirms Dimitrios Goutas to become next Cardiff City signing

Most notably, of course, there appears to be a new role for the Bluebirds' wing-backs. It was evident on Saturday and once again against TNS on Tuesday evening at Cardiff City Stadium.

It's the new way these full-backs are being implemented right at the top of the Premier League by Pep Guardiola and Co and now Bulut, and Cardiff, are following suit.

The so-called term of 'inverted full-backs' means that when Cardiff transition into an attacking play, a wing-back, or even sometimes both, move into central midfield. It allows Cardiff to try to create an overload in the middle of the pitch and worked very well against TNS.

Perry Ng often found himself drifting into a right central midfield role calling for the ball, while Joel Bagan would join him if one of Cardiff's pivots - Joe Ralls and Ryan Wintle - dropped in to split centre-backs Mark McGuinness and Jack Simpson. That means, at any one time when in possession, City had three defenders at the back, three in midfield and four attacking players ahead of them.

The Bluebirds struggled to unlock defences or move opposition defenders and midfielders around enough last season, they became too easy to defend against and as the season wore on, reverted to more direct, pragmatic and, at times, even route-one stuff up to big strikers to get them up the pitch.

This is a more nuanced and fluid approach and Cardiff do have the players to do it. Ng is technically a very good footballer and is far more suited to adopting a midfielder-like role as opposed to an overlapping wing-back role. The same can be said for Bagan, too, who has a lovely left foot and can be intelligent in how he uses the ball.

Indeed, City's first goal against TNS came by virtue of these inverted full-backs, as Bagan picked up the ball centrally and drive through the heart of the pitch before sliding a clever pass through to Callum Robinson, who made no mistake in slotting coolly past Connor Roberts in goal.

The change clearly helped City's midfielders, too. Ralls and Wintle always had an option and were rarely wasteful with the ball as they never had to look for Hollywood passes. It allowed the four-prong attack ahead - Sheyi Ojo, Robinson, Kieron Evans and Kion Etete - to concentrate on making runs in behind and stretching the opposition's defence, in the knowledge that there were six players behind them capable of quelling attacks in defensive transition should the ball be lost. It can be a useful tactic when transitioning into defence, too, as those now central full-backs and screen and block the middle of the pitch, biding time by forcing the ball out wide in order to allow your own players to get back into position.

Having another defensive-minded player in midfield would allow the more attack-minded pivot, a No.8, say, to push further up, too, and form the tip of a midfield three. Cardiff need another creative midfielder in there and, if signed, that is likely to be how they are used.

Lastly, this tactical tweak should, in theory, enable City to be less passive in possession than they have been in recent years. It is typically implemented to allow a team to dominate the ball and important areas of the pitch. If Cardiff want to score more goals, Bulut feels they need more of the ball.

The second, perhaps more obvious, change Bulut has implemented is a big emphasis on upping the goal tally from headers. Three of Cardiff's five goals in pre-season so far have come from headers, a weapon which was so useful in Cardiff's arsenal for so long until last season.

Yes, Cardiff want to overload that midfield and create opportunities for their forwards, just like the aforementioned Robinson goal, but if that isn't working - and it won't, always, against top opposition - then sometimes they will have to change it up and go aerial.

McGuinness has started pre-season impressively, just as he finished last season, really, and looks like he will be a real handful this season. Bulut will hope Etete, a big physical presence, will be a big asset from the set-piece this season, too. New striker Ike Ugbo an inch or two over 6ft, so he will be a target, while new signing Dimitrios Goutas has a number of headed goals to his name already in his career. Indeed, it is one of the main reasons Bulut wanted him through the door.

"He is good in the air," Bulut said of Goutas. "He has scored a lot of goals from set pieces. That is also important for us. We are training on set pieces, so we need these kinds of players. When the game is tired and you can't create chances, you have to do it from set pieces."

It's an area of the game Cardiff really lacked in last season and it cannot be overlooked. It's a positive thing that Bulut is seeking to address that with his transfers and with his tactics. The Bluebirds were the second-lowest scorers in the Championship from set-pieces last season. Depending on leagues, set-piece goals account for anywhere between 25 and 40 percent of a team's overall goal tally.

On how his team has progressed, tactically, in the few short weeks he has been at the club, Bulut added: "From these two games, I can say I am satisfied, because we didn't have a lot of tactical work. We have worked more on physical things.

"But that is why we have a lot of games (in pre-season). We will try and make it much better, small details. We can do it better. We will still work on it, with the new players coming in, we have to train on it so they have it automatically."

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