Premier League-bound Cardiff City a classic Neil Warnock team
Cardiff City joined Wolves in claiming an automatic promotion from the Championship on Sunday, a remarkable achievement considering they were fighting against relegation last season. Nobody expected them to be in this position, but who are they and how will they fare in the Premier League?
Who's the manager?
Neil Warnock is, by number of promotions at least, the most successful manager in the history of the Football League. This is the eighth time he's taken a team up, and the fourth different club he's taken into the top flight. But his record when actually at the highest level isn't quite so great: he has a sense of unfinished business there.
Warnock has done an extraordinary job in getting this Cardiff team promoted, particularly given they were second-bottom of the Championship when he took over last season. Few expected them to do this well, but that's the sort of environment Warnock revels in: his natural confrontational and contrarian manner, combined with a near enthusiasm for unpopularity, suits this Cardiff team perfectly.
Who's their star man?
The point of this Cardiff team is that they don't really have any star men. This is a collective, a group of players gathered from unlikely sources and melded into a cohesive unit: the very definition of a side greater than the sum of its parts.
But probably their most eye-catching player this season has been Junior Hoilett. At the start of last season Hoilett didn't even have a club after leaving QPR, but after Warnock took over he signed for the Bluebirds and quickly became one of their most important players. Cardiff don't exactly have an excess of flair men, so they rely on Hoilett more than most for creativity, and he's certainly delivered that this season.
Who are their other big players?
Centre-back and captain Sean Morrison was named the club's player of the year, his defensive partner Sol Bamba has been incredibly solid, Callum Paterson was signed from Hearts as a right-back but was converted to a midfielder and ended up as their top scorer, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing shares the wide burden with Hoilett ... we could go on.
Warnock has excelled in shining rough diamonds, in finding players basically nobody else wanted and making them into consistent performers. The question is whether he can now repeat that trick in the Premier League.
How do they play?
This isn't a team that people will flock from far and wide to watch. Warnock has built, shall we say, a functional side who play a brand of no-frills football designed to be effective, rather than artful. They are bottom of most statistics that involve passing, preferring the more direct method of transporting the ball from back to front.
This is not to say they aren't entertaining. There is something quite exciting about how visceral Cardiff can be when they really hit their stride, and they do score goals. It's just they tend to avoid the intricacies of the game.
Where will they need to strengthen?
Everywhere, is the short answer. An unexpected promotion from the Championship is wonderful, but implicit in that is the players in their squad are not, on an individual level, of Premier League quality. Warnock said after the promotion-clinching draw with Reading that they would sign "five or six" players, and that seems a sensible number: enough to strengthen, but not so many that their squad is unrecognisable.
The big task will be to find a reliable goalscorer, which is obviously easier said than done for a newly promoted team, and he'll need to be one who can operate effectively in a Warnock team. Kenneth Zohore has been their regular centre-forward this season but only has nine goals. It will also be interesting to see if Liverpool let them keep Marko Grujic, the midfielder they've had on loan since January.
How will they cope in the Premier League?
Of course, this is very hard to say. Logically, given the resources available to the other promoted clubs, they will be favourites for relegation. But then again, logically they shouldn't have got promoted this season. Warnock delights in upsetting the odds, in giving the big boys a bloody nose, but it will be a tall order indeed.
And Warnock raises another question. He has said he deserves a fairer "crack of the whip" in the Premier League, in his mind having been hard done by in the past. But there is also the possibility that he is simply not suited to the division, that he will be forever a man to get teams into the Premier League but not keep them there.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.