Leandro Bacuna insists Cardiff City have what Aston Villa lacked three years ago – the unity to stay in the Premier League.
The Bluebirds midfielder – who could replace Aron Gunnarssson against Liverpool today – was part of the Villa squad that crashed out of the top level in 2016.
It was a divided dressing room, he says, full of finger-pointing accusations among players against a chaotic backdrop of four different managers in the same season.
Bacuna believes the current atmosphere at Cardiff is markedly different, even though defeat against Jurgen Klopp’s title-chasers will leave the relegation-battlers three points adrift of Brighton, with just three games to play.
“The way we are as a team at the moment, we are not blaming each other,” Bacuna said.
“It’s not like picking someone out or picking on every small mistake, being negative. That’s the difference I can see between Villa and now.”
Bacuna joined Cardiff from Championship side Reading for £3m on deadline day in January, but the 27-year-old Dutchman has been used sparingly by manager Neil Warnock with just two starts and five appearances as substitute.
But his display when he replaced Gunnarsson in the 2-0 victory at Brighton in midweek impressed Warnock, who claimed it was reminiscent of Paul Pogba.
“I think the mood when I arrived at Cardiff was very positive,” added Bacuna.
“The position we were in was tough, but still the guys were believing. That’s the main thing – that you believe and still stay in the league. We had a few games that we won and got out of the relegation zone. We lost two or three games, but we are still fighting and not far off.”
A shock victory, or a point today, will give Cardiff a more realistic shot at survival, with games against Fulham, Crystal Palace and Manchester United to come.
If Warnock’s side lose, then they will be hoping that Brighton stumble along their tough run-in, with their home game against in-form Newcastle looking decisive.
Bacuna added: “No-one expects us to get points against Liverpool. They are playing to win the league. We are playing to get one point, maybe three.
“But I’m very confident we can stay up as we have some games left that we can win.”
The former Groningen player is determined to avoid an unwanted family double after his brother Juninho suffered relegation from the Premier League at Huddersfield.
Bacuna says his mother has been caught in the crossfire of a relegation battle which has seen Juninho’s Huddersfield drop out of the league.
“My mum was saying to my brother the other day, ‘I want him to win’,” said Curacao international Bacuna, who is six years older than his sibling.
“My little brother was like, ‘You want him to win but we got relegated’.
“You don’t want both to go down, of course we’re in a situation where we’ve got to fight.
“I spoke to him (Juninho) after he went down and said, ‘Don’t worry’.
“He’s still young, 21, and I’ve been through that situation when I got relegated with Villa a few years ago. You’ve got to keep fighting, even if you go down to the Championship.”
Warnock’s faith in Bacuna may have come late in the day, but if the comparison with Manchester United’s Pogba is made after playing against Liverpool, rather than Brighton, then the manager may be on to something.
Gunnarsson is leaving Cardiff at the end of the campaign – however it ends – to play in Qatar and Bacuna is viewed as a ready replacement.
Warnock said: “I said to Gunnarsson after the game, ‘Wow, why didn’t you go off earlier? Thank goodness you’re leaving at the end of the season because we’ve got him’.
“We had a good laugh about that, but everybody wants to be involved. It’s a great place to be and you wouldn’t think we were fighting relegation.
“Last Monday after the Burnley game it was all doom and gloom, whereas now it’s great with four games to go.
“We’ve got to rely on a lot of things going in our favour (to stay up), but let’s see.”
Bacuna was happy to take the comparison with a player who cost United for £86m more than he cost Cardiff.
“Yeah we were having a joke about that after the game. He said that when I came on I looked like Pogba. Everyone was laughing. He’s a manager that likes to keep everyone smiling. It’s important to keep everyone smiling at the moment and to keep a happy atmosphere in the team.
“I’ll definitely take it though. I think my hair looks a bit weird like him too! “