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Cardiff City: preview

After landing in Canada on Thursday, Real Valladolid have been training at the Edmonton Soccer Dome and the campus of the University of Alberta ahead of their second friendly match of the North American stay. Tonight, they take on English Championship side, Cardiff City, at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

In what has been a positive and enriching experience for the playing squad and technical staff so far, this second contest will allow manager Sergio González a further chance to assess his players against a team with top-flight experience of the English game.

Cardiff City, who along with Swansea City are the only Welsh teams to play in the higher English divisions, were founded 120 years ago, in 1899, and were originally called Riverside AFC. They adopted their current moniker in 1908. They are managed by Neil Warnock, who joined the club in October 2016. He is well-known to all in the English game having managed a host of clubs since he took charge of his first side, non-league Gainsborough Trinity, in 1981. His portfolio includes spells at Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Leeds among many others. He holds the record in his country for the greatest number of promotions earned, with eight. Warnock’s youngest son, William, is on the books of Cardiff City’s under-18 side as a defender.

The Bluebirds were promoted to the Premier League at the end of 2017/18 following a successful campaign in the Championship which saw them finish nine points behind winners, Wolverhampton Wanderers. They began strongly, setting a new club record by winning their first three league matches in a row. This runners-up finish gave them immediate access to the Premier League via an automatic promotion slot. However, they found the going tough last year and eventually succumbed to relegation with one match left to play after a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace on May 4th. This defeat ensured that they were unable to catch Brighton and Hove Albion above them, thus sealing an 18th-place finish. Fulham and Huddersfield Town finished below them, completing the relegated trio. They did finish last season on a positive, beating Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford in the final match, courtesy of a goal in either half from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.

As with most clubs who suffer relegation, the budget for the following season is reduced and the squad faces losing players. Cardiff City have been no different and many of the changes have come in the backline. Already this summer they have bid farewell to Gabonese defender Bruno Ecuele Manga to French side Dijon, as well as forward Kenneth Zohore who has made the switch to West Bromwich Albion in a deal reported to be around the £7 million mark. To soften the blow of losing Manga, the Bluebirds have brought in defenders Will Vaulks from Rotherham, Curtis Nelson from Oxford United and yesterday they announced the signing of centre-back Aden Flint for £6 million from Middlesbrough. They boast a solid goalkeeper in former Chelsea youth product Neil Etheridge, who was one of the bright spots of last year’s disappointing campaign. London-born Etheridge is a Philippines international who has over 60 caps to his name, qualifying due to the nationality of his mother. The Canadian crowd will welcome any appearance of Junior Hoillet – a native of Brampton, Ontario – who has 24 caps for his country in midfield and has over 110 appearances for the Welsh side, but has not yet featured in preseason, due to international duties at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. This would be his first time playing in Edmonton.

Like Real Valladolid, Warnock’s side arrived in North America this month for preseason training. They have played twice already against American opposition. Last Saturday – in the small hours of Sunday morning in the UK – they took on San Antonio FC at Toyota Field, winning 1-0 in an even affair. San Antonio compete in the Western Conference of the USL Championship, one tier below Major League Soccer, and are an affiliate club of the MLS’s New York City FC. It required a Josh Murphy penalty six minutes into the second half, after home goalkeeper Jonathan Viscoci had fouled him, to separate the sides.

On Friday morning UK time, they were back in action. On this occasion, the venue was the University of New Mexico Soccer Complex in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They played another USL side, New Mexico United, who were playing in their first ever exhibition match against foreign opposition and gave a good account of themselves. Warnock made three changes to his line-up. Youngster Ciaron Brown came into defence and Danny Ward played up front, replacing the departing Bruno Ecule Manga and Kenneth Zohore at their respective positions. New signing Curtis Nelson took a seat on the bench and was replaced by midfielder Joe Ralls. It was the home side who began on the front foot and were richly rewarded for their early spell of pressure as Ken Akamatsu gathered the ball in the area and took advantage to fire home from close range. The equaliser was worth the wait and it came shortly after the hour mark. Omar Bogle, who replaced Ward early in the second half, had only been on the field for 12 minutes when he stroked a delightful free kick from outside the penalty arc which left the goalkeeper rooted to the spot as he watched it sail into the top left corner of his goal.

As was the case in their previous match, a 1-1 draw with San Jose Earthquakes, Real Valladolid will likely split playing time among much of the squad. It emerged this week that Enes Ünal, who had been trying to obtain a visa to travel, will not join the team for the remainder of the trip and is training with the club’s B-team, the Promesas, until the team arrives back in Spain. However, this appears to be the only issue for Sergio who has a full squad to chose from. Defender Joaquín had been training outside the group at the University of Alberta as a precaution but has since linked in with the other players.

This will be the 14th time that Real Valladolid have met English-league opposition in friendlies, dating back to their first encounter in May 1951 in the Algerian city of Oran where they faced-off against Chelsea.

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