Cardiff City finally ended a long series of agonising playoff defeats to storm the Championship last season and finish in first place. So, the money must have paid off, finally leaving them with a team far too good for the division, right? Well, no, not quite. Cardiff probably had a side much better equipped to escape that division when they had the prolific duo of Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd up front, when Peter Whittingham was enjoying his best form. They've lost a great number of excellent players in the past few seasons and haven't really replaced them. So what was the difference last year? In a couple of words: Malky Mackay.
The former Watford man was probably the catalyst for finally getting Cardiff up, able to keep up a remarkable level of consistency that nobody else could compete with until the title race was all but over. Make no mistake: This is not a great side. It is a deeply flawed one, with plenty of flaws and weaknesses, but Mackay was able to rotate and deploy in such an effective manner that they seemed to always have just enough to get by. In short, they simply knew how to win games -- whether they were playing well or not.
That ability will need to be on show again if Cardiff are to survive. Their transfer activity has been strange, but if they can keep going, they are potentially building a good side for the future.
Last year: 1st, Championship
Key player: Fraizer Campbell
Cardiff desperately lacked a reliable source of goals last year, with the ancient Heidar Helguson their best bet. That was addressed midway through the season with the signing of Fraizer Campbell, who proved to be more than capable of finding the net at Championship level. Yet, with Andreas Cornelius highly untested, Campbell will need to prove he can replicate his antics as he returns to the Premier League. The decision not to sign a more experienced forward is a huge show of faith in the youngster from Mackay, and he'll need to make sure he can live up to it.
Potential breakout star: Andreas Cornelius
Spending a big chunk of your promotion on a striker who is just 20 years old, with one full season in the Danish league behind him, is highly questionable, but Cornelius could have huge things ahead of him. He'll need to rapidly adjust to English football and impose himself at such a young age, but he undoubtedly has plenty of talent if the rest of the side give him the platform to show his goal-scoring form.
Additions: Andreas Cornelius, Steven Caulker, Simon Moore, John Brayford
Cardiff have been curious in the transfer window so far, staying quite quiet and making two big, surprising signings out of nowhere in Cornelius and Caulker. Both are exceptional young talents, but surely other players will be incoming before the window ends. Up front in particular, the club are desperately in need of options.
Departures: Stephen McPhail, Nathaniel Jarvis, Heidar Helguson, Elliot Parish, Jesse Darko
With McPhail finding himself sidelined last season, and Helguson, although their top scorer, surely too old to be of use in the Premier League, Cardiff have suffered no significant departures. The club look ready to utilise the resources they have with only a handful of new additions, which could prove an astute strategy if they can up their game as a whole.
Could still leave: Tommy Smith, Rudy Gestede
Cardiff won't lose any key players in this window, but whether they persist with the likes of Tommy Smith and Rudy Gestede, who may not have what it takes to step up to Premier League level, is questionable. Etien Velikonja and Filip Kiss, too, found first-team opportunities hard to come by last season, but Cardiff may keep hold of them for another season -- they're young, but not too young, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see them leave.
With Cardiff missing out on the signings of Tom Ince and Etienne Capoue, it seems that midfield is Mackay's priority. The replacement signings for Capoue aren't quite so exciting (Tom Huddlestone, Stephane Mbia), but Jefferson Montero is an excellent alternative to Ince. An absolute steal at a suggested price of £3m, he's begun his start to the league in Mexico in fine goal-scoring form and could be one of the bargains of the summer.
Projected opening weekend starting XI: David Marshall, John Brayford, Steven Caulker, Mark Hudson, Andrew Taylor, Craig Conway, Peter Whittingham, Aron Gunnarson, Kim Bo-Hyung, Andreas Cornelius, Fraizer Campbell.
Midfield reinforcements are near-certain for Cardiff, but it'll be interesting to see whether McKay lines up with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. The latter could accommodate any new additions better, but will also give him a dilemma over whether to start Campbell or Cornelius -- the former is more experienced, but the latter surely better-suited to playing the lone striker role.
Season prediction: 17th
Cardiff did a fine job last year, but they were the archetype of a good Championship team. As Reading showed, that doesn't do too many favours in the Premier League. Their transfer activity has been good, yet not exactly what they need. But despite all that, with a handful of players above their level, they could still survive if the rest of the team can show the same coherence as they did last season.