Huddersfield Town (H) Match Preview

Well, what is there to say about a game like this? Huge, season defining, a relegation six pointer. Bring out all your clichés because this is game is all of those things, an absolute must win for both sides. Players and managers will tell you there is still a lot of football to be played after this one but lets be honest, this is do or die.

Everyone knows that Latics are desperate for a win. Our last one came in November before the World Cup, since then we’ve appointed 2 managers, sacked 1, signed 6 players, lost 1 to a season ending injury and picked up just 3 points. Shaun Maloney’s first game in charge was a very positive draw at Blackburn but wins are needed now, starting in this game.

The points would be equally precious for Huddersfield Town who also find themselves in the bottom 3. They’ve sacked former boss Mark Fotheringham in the week and there’s a lot of discontent around the club at the minute. Having lost to Latics in the reverse fixture I’m sure the Terriers will be out for revenge.

Latics Team News

Monday night gave us a great insight into how Shaun Maloney wants us to line up for the rest of the season. As expected he played a 3-4-2-1 system and there were some notable inclusions and exclusions from the matchday squad, and the travelling group of players. Some senior figures were ousted in favour of new signings which was interesting.

Unfortunately 2 of the new signings went down with injuries which pretty much sums up our luck at the moment. Omar Rekik seemed to tweak his hamstring and fingers crossed that injury isn’t too serious. I’m not expecting him to play in this game but there seems to be a fair amount of optimism that he’ll be back after this weekend which is great news.

Unfortunately that’s where the good news stops. Martin Kelly has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a ‘serious knee injury’ after just 70 minutes of football for the club. What makes this even more sad is how brilliant he was for us on Monday night, and he leaves big shoes to fill on the right of that back 3.

Assuming Rekik is also missing that leaves two holes in our 3 man defence that need filling. Charlie Hughes, Steven Caulker and Curtis Tilt are the natural CBs in the squad whilst full backs Ryan Nyambe, Joe Bennett and Tom Pearce (more on him later!) could also do a job there. The obvious picks are Hughes and Caulker but it’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod.

Wing Backs James McClean and Tendayi Darikwa were much improved and kept the flanks under control relatively well. They’re tasked with providing width and dynamism to a side that’s very centrally dominated and I think they did that pretty well. Tom Pearce may well get the nod as a LWB too after his return from injury on Monday night.

Another improvement came in Centre Midfield in thee shape of Max Power. He looked much more calm and composed and showed glimpses of the player we know he can be having seen it so often in the past. There’s still issues with his creative output but if you attempt as many key passes as he does one or two have to come off eventually!

His midfield partner Christ Tiehi was excellent and looks to be the only positive of the Kolo Toure reign. I expect him to retain his place in the side ahead of the likes of Tom Naylor and Miguel Azeez, whose 1 match ban for celebrating excessively at Cardiff has been served.

Going forward we looked better on Monday night and had a really nice front 3. Danel Sinani and Callum Lang working in the spaces behind Will Keane was nice to see and I think with a bit of fine tuning it could produce the goods for us. Sinani looked lively but lacked the end product, something he’ll need to improve against the side he was on loan at last season.

Charlie Wyke and Thelo Aasgaard made brief cameos off the bench against Blackburn but didn’t have many opportunities to show their qualities. I think a more extended amount of time in this system could really suit them and I hope to see both feature in this one.

An Opposition View

As always I’ve called in the help of a couple of somebody far more knowledgeable about Huddersfield Town than myself to contribute to this section of the preview!

1) Let’s start with the big news coming out of Huddersfield Town this week. Mark Fotheringham has been sacked after a poor spell in charge, can you just talk us through his time at the club and what went wrong?

“I think an easier question would be: what went right! 5 wins in 21 games is just not good enough. He fixed the defensive and fitness issues the squad faced, but a lack of cutting edge in attack is what cost Town and ultimately his job. His press conferences were inconsistent, one week throwing his Japanese left sided centre back under the bus for a small misjudgement, the next praising the team for their performance after losing comfortably. It was a culmination of errors, and like Schofield earlier in the season it was only a matter of time before he was going to go.” [@HTAFC_STATTO]

2) This season hasn’t gone to plan for Huddersfield, particularly considering what happened last season. What’s this current group of players missing that was present last year?

“The short answer: a left back and box to box goalscoring midfielder. Although I think the club just needs some stability. Some will say that the squad is league 1 level, but I disagree, it just needs a coach that can unlock the potential of the squad and also get the boardroom in order. The unrest upstairs has transpired onto the pitch and into the stadium. Blackpool got right behind their side when they were struggling, but that has been a rarity at the JSS this season.” [@HTAFC_STATTO]

3) This is a huge game at the bottom of the table and you’re going into it managerless? Are you confident that sacking Fotheringham 72 hours before such a big game will pay off?

“Town played Blackpool and then Wigan earlier in the season, with Schofield being sacked after the latter, when realistically he should have been gone after the 1-0 loss to the Tangerines. Town chose to not take the chance this time. I can’t say I am too bothered and probably am more confident now under caretaker Narcis Pelach than I would have under Fotheringham.” [@HTAFC_STATTO]

4) Despite your league position there is still quality in the side. Who are you pinning your hopes on to deliver at the DW?

“Anthony Knockaert has looked a tidy signing since joining on-loan from Fulham and is slowly building up his fitness, a start may be beyond him at this stage, but fully expect him to feature off the bench. In a game that is going to lack quality, it may just take one moment of brilliance to sway the tie and Knockaert certainly has that in abundance.” [@HTAFC_STATTO]

Tactical Talk

Monday night’s game was an interesting one for several reasons, but I felt especially from a tactical perspective. I could see things playing out that I haven’t seen a Latics team try in a long time, certain patterns of play that supporters have been crying out for for months and in fairness, a clear and concise game plan at last.

The 3-4-2-1 worked really well and some of the positions we managed to get ourselves into were very promising. As I touched on earlier, a lot of our play was focused through the middle of the pitch initially which meant our WBs were left in a lot of space quite a few times. With better delivery from these areas we might’ve scored.

When we had the ball in the build up a lot of responsibility was placed upon the LCB and RCB to progress the ball vertically or into wide areas. However, with the absence of Kelly and expected absence of Rekik these areas need filling. With how Maloney wants us to play I think they need to be comfortable on the ball and also quick physical enough to cover the wide areas.

Step forward Tom Pearce…

Now I tweeted this suggestion yesterday and got laughed out of town, so let me put forward my case! Is it a bug risk in a must win game to play an attacking full back as a Centre Back? Yes, of course. But is the role of a Centre Back in this system that different to playing as a Left Back in a back 4, I would say not at all.

The truth his he pretty much played LCB on Monday night. When Rekik came off injured he was replaced by Pearce who sort of occupied a hybrid LCB / LB position; LCB off the ball and LB on it. This is pretty much the saem as what Rekik did. Remember, the WBs were high and wide when we had the ball so a lot of trust was given to Rekik and Kelly to carry the ball forward and into the area a natural Full Back might take up.

Here are two heat maps from Monday’s game. On the left you have Omar Rekik, who everyone can agree was very much used as a LCB in the game and played very well, moving up the pitch when needed as well as remaining solid defensively. On the right is Tom Pearce. Now for me they look very, very similar. Especially as one was playing at CB and the other at LB.

The reason I’m highlighting these heat maps is simple. In terms of areas of the pitch they’re required to cover and responsibilities defensively, there really is very little difference between LB in a 4 and LCB in a 5. In fact as a CB in a 5 you do much less 1v1 defending than the WB so if we are worried about that side of Pearce’s game you could argue this actually protects him somewhat. McClean at LWB had 29 defensive duels on Monday. Rekik and Pearce combined had 18.

So positionally it shouldn’t be a problem for him, he’d have more defensive support around him than he would at Full Back and potentially less defensive work to do. In possession he would improve us more than any natural CB option would. I’m expecting us to see a lot of the ball tomorrow so having a comfortable ball player / dribbler in the back line will give us a totally different dynamic from which to launch attacks.

Maloney has previous moulding full backs into centre backs too. Josh Doig was at Hibs with Maloney last season and despite being a natural attacking LB he spent a lot of time at LCB. He was a key part of their build up and wasn’t exposed defensively because of the bodies he had around him. At 6’2 he suited the role ( Pearce is 6’1) physically and did it very well. I really think Tom Perace could do the same.

Anyway, that’s only one of several key decisions Maloney will have to make tomorrow. In attacking areas I feel like an extra runner could be of use. Be that from one of the midfield two or a much more advanced Wing back I’m not sure but at times it felt like the front 3 only had themselves to pass to. As they become more used to each other’s games that’ll be fine, but for now we need extra bodies to support attacks.

Defensively there wasn’t much wrong as I sort of expected from a Maloney side. We looked well organised and tough to beat which against a side struggling for goals like Huddersfield will be key. They’re strong from set pieces though so we have to make sure they’re dealt with well all afternoon. Also, don’t let Josh Koroma cut in and shoot on his right foot, as he showed at Blackpool it can be a deadly weapon.

Final Thoughts

This really is about as big as it gets for Latics. A win here could kick us into gear and send us on a run that ensures Championship survival, a loss could send us spiralling towards League One faster than you can say ‘It’s Kolo’s fault’. I think the staff and players know it is too and I’m sure it’ll be a nervy affair at times.

The supporters have a huge role to play and really could be the point of difference. Games like Preston, Blackburn and Blackpool all had great atmospheres and that translated onto the pitch with the players’ performances. We absolutely need the same again tomorrow. Be loud, be proud and back the boys.

Up the Tics!

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