It was a fairytale story that many assumed would finish with a very gruesome ending. Huddersfield Town defied the odds to clinch promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs and a penalty shoot-out last season as they reached the promised land for the first time. From that moment on, all of the talk centred upon their coming season in England’s top league and what methods, if any, Huddersfield could utilise to stay afloat.
As the campaign approached, few gave them a chance and, honestly, most maintain this opinion, with the Terriers not a side the average punter would bet a significant amount of money on.
However, their opening two weeks to the Premier League season has been rather outstanding. Two wins from two, four goals scored and two clean sheets is probably a lot more than even manager David Wagner would have dared to dream of.
Their 3-0 win over Crystal Palace was one of the most surprising results of the opening weekend, only trumped by Burnley’s victory over reigning champions Chelsea. The Terriers were in imperious form though, with two goals from Steve Mounie and an own goal from Joel Ward providing the three points for the promoted side.
What was so impressive about their win though? Statistically, it was their first ever triumph in their debut in the Premier League, while their subsequent victory over Newcastle made it a 100% record in the Premier League for Huddersfield. In conjunction with this, only one player in the starting XI for Huddersfield had prior Premier League experience, when Tom Ince was on loan at Palace. Finally, Huddersfield finished last season with a negative goal difference, scoring 56 times and conceding 58 goals, in comparison to Newcastle’s +45 and Huddersfield’s +34 goal difference.
Huddersfield employed an aggressive pressing game
Throughout their game with Palace, Wagner’s side employed an incredibly aggressive pressing game that saw their hosts given no time on the ball, thus pushing them backwards and forcing them to play the ball from inside and around their own box, or play it long, something that Palace are trying to distance themselves from.
Against Newcastle, it was not quite as an impressive a win, but it was clinical. The only real moment of quality in the match was when Aaron Mooy played a one-two, ghosted past his man and curled a first-time shot into the corner. From there, Newcastle tried to force their way back into the game, but Huddersfield’s resolute defence stood firm and keep the Magpies out.
In the off-season, it is clear that Wagner has been working hard on both the offensive and defensive aspects of his side’s game. Defensively, they have seemed far more compact when defending, as Tommy Smith, Mathias Jorgensen, Christopher Schindler and Chris Lowe did an outstanding job of stifling Newcastle’s attack, dominating them in the air, suffocating the space they had to work in and keeping the ball intelligently along the backline when needed.
Going forward, there have been a number of big money signings including Mounie, who had a field day against Palace, while they also seem far more clinical this campaign, taking their one real chance of the game against the Magpies.
Huddersfield are clearly being set up by Wagner to take the game by the scruff of the neck and attack. They play with tenacity, energy and a fearlessness that neither Palace nor Newcastle had. In the end, their manager’s philosophy and the fact that most have written off their chances of survival compliment one another perfectly.
By contrast, Newcastle arrived at the John Smith’s Stadium simply not wanting to lose. It is a well-known fact that while Rafael Benitez is a superb tactician, he is a very reactionary manager, preferring to see how events unfold before making his changes and implementing his plan. Wagner prefers to lay his plans out on the table and get his team to try to win every game. While this may see them hammered in one or two games down the line, it has served them well thus far, with the Terriers already beating two sides that are tipped to also be in the relegation fight this season.
It would be foolish to state that Huddersfield will survive solely on their performances in their opening games. There is a very long road ahead and injuries and defeats will take its toll on the team and their fans. However, if Huddersfield do continue in the same way then they will win a number of games as their positive style will catch out teams that prefer to sit deep.
While this may not be enough to save them, and if the Terriers are to be relegated this season, they will have won a lot of admirers with their positive and proactive style of football that hasn’t been in fashion of late.