Only four teams in the history of the English football have won three successive league titles. Three of them are easily guessable – Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. But much before these mega clubs achieved this feat, one Yorkshire club achieved it. Huddersfield Town won the league for the three seasons between 1923-24 and 1925-26. Those are the only league titles that The Terriers have won. They also won the FA Cup in 1922.
However, this piece of history is not going to help Huddersfield a lot as they become the 49th team to compete in the Premier League this season. They beat Reading on penalties in the play-off final to book a seat in the top division. That is a long way off from League One, where the Terriers played till 2011-12. The immediate challenge for their manager David Wagner will be to ensure that they do not drop back into the Championship as most bookmakers are expecting them to.
Those expectations are built on some solid numbers. Huddersfield scored only 56 goals in 46 Championship matches last season. They had a lot of possession (55.7%) and shots (624) but took slightly more than 11 shots to score a goal. Wagner, who hails from the gegenpressing school of thought, needed to rotate his squad to ensure fitness and that led to Huddersfield scoring only one goal in their final five fixtures, which was an own goal by Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semifinal.
Terriers’ defense was a bit better, conceding only 437 shots, which meant that they gave away a shot every 9.4 minutes but it took only 7.5 shots for them to concede a goal. This led them to concede a total of 58 goals, which meant that they became the first side to get promoted to the Premier League, with a negative goal difference. Of course, all these stats were achieved in the Championship and would have little significance in the elite world of Premier League. Wagner has also added a few players to the squad and will be hoping that the new signings can add goals for his team, so that his job of saving the club from immediate relegation becomes that bit easier.
Huddersfield’s siginings indicate that they are trying to plug the gaps at both ends of the pitch. They have signed two strikers in Laurent Depoitre from FC Porto and Steve Mounie from HSC Montpellier. Interestingly both the strikers are in the targetman mould. Both players are tall, physical players who can hold off the defenders and both of them are good headers of the ball. 22-year old Mounie is a bit more mobile than the Depoitre, which means that the Benin international might get a look-in before the Belgian in Wagner’s plans. But to succeed, both of them need good service from the wings.
That’s where the signings of Tom Ince from Derby County and a permanent move for Elias Kachunga from FC Ingolstadt come into the picture. Kachunga was their top scorer last season (12 goals) but Ince made a key pass every 51 minutes for Derby County. Between them and Kasey Palmer, who returns on loan from Chelsea, the strikers can expect good levels of service.
In the central midfield positions, Huddersfield have secured the permanent move of Australian Aaron Mooy, who was the Player of the Year for them last season. Mooy is expected to control the midfield, while also provide a bit of creativity deeper on the pitch. His free-kicks are also expected to help the team score a few goals. In addition to Mooy, Wagner has signed Danny Williams from Reading on a free transfer. Williams is a bit more defensive putting in 1.2 interceptions, 1.2 tackles, and 0.9 clearances per game for Reading. His passing accuracy and range also seem to be good.
In defense, Wagner has added Scott Malone from Fulham at left-back and Mathias Jørgensen from FC Copenhagen at centre back. These two players come in as reinforcements for an already decent defensive outfit. Both the players have good clearance and interception numbers and Zanka especially is good at aerial duels, averaging 3.6 aerial duels per 90 minutes, with a 76% success rate.
In the goalkeeping department, Wagner would love to bring back Danny Ward from his friend Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Ward was the hero of their penalty shootout in the Championship play-off final. He was their primary goalkeeper last season but Wagner has strengthened the position already by bringing Jonas Lössl on loan from Mainz.
How Are They Expected to Line Up
Wagner prefers a 4-2-3-1 set up that changes shape according to when the Terriers have the ball and when the opposition have it. Although the main striker from last season, Nahki Wells is out injured, in Depoitre and Mounie, Wagner has the striker position covered.
In the advanced midfield and the wing positions, Palmer, Kachunga and Ince slot themselves in, while Wagner can also rotate with Rajiv van La Parra, especially on the left. In central midfield, Mooy will definitely start, supported by other options including Williams, Phillip Billing and sparingly – Dean Whitehead.
On the right-back, Tom Smith should remain the first choice, while on left-back, Wagner has choices between Lowe, who started 42 league matches last season and the new signing Malone. In central defense, Zanka could partner Schindler till the others recover from their injuries and perhaps even beyond.
In the goal, it is a question of whether Wagner can get Danny Ward back to John Smith’s Stadium or not. If Ward is not available, then it is a toss-up between the newcomer Jonas Lössl and last season’s back up keeper Coleman.
How Do They Start the Season
Huddersfield have been handed a very kind start to, what will eventually be a very challenging season. They do not play a top six side until Tottenham’s visit to John Smith’s Stadium on 30th September in the seventh game of the season. Their first five are Crystal Palace (A), Newcastle (H), Southampton (H), West Ham (A), and Leicester (H). All these fixtures are going to be tough for the Terriers but that is because of their newly promoted status. I am sure Huddersfield fans would love this start, compared to having a handful of matches against the top six right at the beginning. This start does give Wagner’s side a chance to grab some points before running into more difficult fixtures.
Given Wagner’s style of play and his tactics, which are a derivation of the gegenpress he picked up at Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp, Huddersfield will be an interesting side to watch. I think we can rest assured that just like in Liverpool’s case, there will be goals in Huddersfield matches. But, I am afraid that unless the new signings surprise the league with something extraordinary, a large proportion of those goals will be at Huddersfield’s end. They are the favorites to go back down and while they can of course spring a surprise, as of now that expectation is justified.