The Season So Far
David Wagner and company are sitting pretty at the moment, following hugely important successive victories over West Bromwich Albion (2-1) and Bournemouth (4-1). In a season in which results against sides in similar positions have seemingly defined everything, victories like this will likely be the difference between staying in the Premier League and returning to the Championship.
Just a few weeks ago Huddersfield looked all-but-down, with two wins from fifteen showing just how short on quality they were. These recent victories have changed everything: with West Brom seemingly down and others finding their fixture lists turning very nasty, the Terriers have a three-point cushion between themselves and the drop zone and they’ve picked up momentum.
We shouldn’t be surprised given the miracles Wagner has worked in West Yorkshire during his short spell in charge. Indeed, Huddersfield’s biggest worry will be that staying up may not be enough to keep Wagner at the club: he has already resisted lucrative offers to return to Germany and he will surely have even more suitors this summer. Should he leave, the memories genuinely will last Terriers fans a lifetime.
The Season Ahead
It’s all about getting enough points on the board to avoid the drop, and Huddersfield have a fighting chance of doing so now. The January addition of Alex Pritchard, well-known to the more avid Spurs fans, has given them an extra touch of guile and flair in attack and his impact has lifted the team and allowed their other attackers to play to their full potential again.
Following this weekend’s trip to Tottenham, for which Huddersfield will obviously be underdogs, they have a run of games which goes as follows: Swansea (H), Crystal Palace (H), Newcastle (A), Brighton (A), Watford (H). Ten points from those five games will see them reach forty points and the figurative safety mark. Then it’ll be party time.
Given that David Wagner is, famously, Jürgen Klopp’s best friend and former colleague, there’s no surprise that Huddersfield play with many of the same principles as Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool sides. A high and intense co-ordinated press is the foundation of the Terriers’ play and their 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 formation allows them to apply pressure on the ball all over the pitch without leaving gigantic spaces for the opponents to exploit.
Huddersfield’s defensive performance this season has been hugely admirable and it has shown promoted sides that there’s a viable tactical alternative to the traditional “4-4-2, backs to the wall, hit and hope” fare British managers usually serve up when promoted from the Championship or tasked with saving a team from the drop.
Huddersfield’s attacking hasn’t been quite as spectacular as the selfless one-touch interplay we’re used to seeing from Klopp’s teams, but given the colossal difference between the resources available to Klopp at Dortmund and Liverpool and Wagner at Huddersfield, that’s to be expected. Their approach is generally rather more direct and rudimentary and obviously easier to defend against, with lots of long balls forward and low xG shots from distance, but as previously stated, the addition of Pritchard has given them a more varied threat.
The biggest strengths of this Huddersfield team are their organisation, their work-rate, and their tactical understanding. Without these qualities their system would collapse and their relative lack of Premier League quality and top-flight experience would have been more brutally exposed by now.
The figures show just how hard they’re working and how well they’re defending: 19.5 tackles per game is league’s highest figure, 13.2 interceptions per game is the third highest and only four teams have blocked more passes so far this season. If a team manages to get through the midfield and arrive in Huddersfield’s box, the no-nonsense defenders deal with the threat, no questions asked: only six teams have made more clearances this season than Huddersfield.
This means that even though Huddersfield have the ninth lowest possession average in the Premier League, they don’t necessarily suffer for playing for so long without the ball: only six teams have allowed fewer shots on their goal so far this season. For a club with such limited resources, playing such advanced football is tremendously impressive in and of itself.
Unfortunately, their defensive strength has come at a significant cost: for large parts of the season at least, their attacking hasn’t been anywhere near good enough to get them the results they’ve needed. Even when protecting their goal very effectively and needing to do relatively little to tip the balance of a game in their favour, the Terriers have struggled to effectively transition into attack and to create good chances.
Only two teams have taken fewer shots this season, only one team has created fewer chances from crosses and no team has created fewer chances from corners or throughballs. On top of that they’ve turned the ball over with alarming regularity: only five teams have a lower passing accuracy and only three teams have played more inaccurate long passes.
It’s all well and good having an extremely well-drilled press and ably protecting your own goal for the majority of games, but it doesn’t add up to much if nothing happens when the ball is won and the opportunity to win a game presents itself.
On a more fundamental note, there’s a colossal gulf in quality between the two sides and even on Huddersfield’s best day they would also need it to be Tottenham’s worst for them to win. This is far from an even contest.
Given that Huddersfield are flying and on a run of consecutive wins for the first time since August, we shouldn’t expect too many changes.
The Terriers are among the most admirable, likable teams in the division but Spurs simply have too much quality. 2-0 to Tottenham.