(Writer’s Note: This is the fifth of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on Aug. 10. Links to previous teams’ previews can be found at the bottom of the page)
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN TERRIERS
Manager: David Wagner (Hire Date: Nov. 5, 2015)
Tenure Length: 6th/20 in Premier League and 15th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 9-10-19, 37 points, 16th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 28
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-30
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 2 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2017
Last Relegation: 2003 (from Second Division to Third Division)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Third-round loss (Crystal Palace)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (Birmingham City)
After a 45-year absence, Huddersfield Town made its return to top-flight football in grand style, taking the maximum six points from its first two matches while briefly ruling the Premier League roost.
After totaling nine points from its first contests, the Terriers’ shortcomings offensively led to a gradual slide down the table, though not before a landmark 2-1 win over Manchester United in October after which United manager Jose Mourinho lauded Wagner for his tactics and team’s effort.
There were some rough patches throughout the season — hidings of 4-0 and 5-0 at Bournemouth and Arsenal, respectively, but the team always found a way to get points at opportune times. Huddersfield claimed nine points in a six-match span to reach 11th in the table by the end of 2017.
But a five-match losing streak with the passing into 2018 left Huddersfield in dire straits, second-bottom in the table. Back-to-back wins over Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion in February proved vital in the quest for survival. The Terriers also picked up key points in back-to-back road draws four days apart versus champion Manchester City and Chelsea, with the latter securing a second straight season in the top flight.
POTENTIAL STARTING XI
After using a five-man backline following promotion, Wagner has opted for a 4-2-3-1 set-up to start this season in hopes of jump-starting the offense. Lossl again returns as keeper, though he will be challenged by Ben Hamer, who deputised behind Kasper Schmeichel at Leicester City.
The defense looks largely the same, though Erik Durm is expected to start at right back after arriving from Borussia Dortmund. The 26-year-old was an unused substitute on Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team.
The change in formation means there will be more defined holding midfielders, who are expected to be holdover Jonathan Hogg and newcomer Juninho Bacuna. Australia international Aaron Mooy is again Huddersfield’s primary playmaker and will be flanked by Ryan van La Parra and Ramadan Sobhi, who came over from Stoke City on a transfer reportedly worth almost £6 million.
Depoitre will again operate as a lone striker, but there will be challenges from Steve Mounie, who had a team-high seven goals last season, and new arrival Adama Diakhaby, who played at Monaco last season.
THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS
Wagner and Huddersfield have always been about spending transfer funds wisely, and the acquisitions of Durm, Sobhi and Bacuna fit that profile. Sobhi scored one of his two goals last season against Huddersfield, and the 21-year-old Bacuna spent the past two seasons with Groningen, helping the Dutch side qualify for Europa League play last campaign.
The most notable departure is expected to be midfielder Tom Ince, who was reportedly finalising a deal with Championship side Stoke City as of this writing.
THE GUY WORTH SEEING
Aaron Mooy (MF)
Mooy is like the little train that could in Huddersfield Town’s midfield engine, full of industry and dangerous when able to get forward. He played in all three of Australia’s World Cup matches in Russia, pumping in a team-high 23 crosses and taking a team-best 13 corner kicks.
If Mooy can quickly form a bond with Sobhi while maintaining his existing one with van La Parra, the Terriers could be a more dangerous outfit offensively.
Per Ladbrokes, Huddersfield is second-most likely to be relegated at 6/5 odds, trailing only Cardiff City. The Terriers are considered a lock to finish in the bottom half of the table with 1/14 odds and are 14th of the 15 sides with available odds on a top-half finish at 7/1, again ahead of only Cardiff City.
FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES
Aug. 11 — Chelsea (5th) H
Aug. 18 — Manchester City (1st) (A)
Aug. 25 — Cardiff City (N/A) H
Sept. 1 — Everton (8th) A
April 20 — Watford (14th) H
April 27 — Liverpool (4th) A
May 4 — Manchester United (2nd) H
May 12 — Southampton (17th) A
It is not hard to put in perspective just how much Huddersfield Town struggled offensively last season when both Mo Salah and Harry Kane totaled more goals individually than the Terriers did over a 38-match season. And that 28-goal haul looks worse when poring through the match-by-match scorelines and realising 17 of those goals came in six matches.
Huddersfield scored three goals in its final nine matches. Three. The Terriers also failed to score in 20 of their 38 contests last season.
That cannot happen again if there is any expectation of surviving for a third straight season in the Premier League. Most of the Terriers success can be attributed to Wagner’s match-planning for each opponent and a well-drilled defensive side, but it is unreasonable to believe the Terriers can claim 14 points off 1-0 and 0-0 scorelines while going unbeaten in such matches (3-5-0) for a second consecutive campaign.
Mooy has to do more in the midfield, and while he will be getting some help with Sobhi, both Depoitre and Mounie have to finish their chances when they become available. Huddersfield is going to still be a defense-first side that looks to counter when it is available, but if Wagner is going to make a four-man backline work, this team must go forward more often.
Huddersfield Town is going to be under pressure from the opening kickoff. Getting even one point off Chelsea and Manchester City in the first two contests will be considered a positive, and the run-in featuring expected contenders Liverpool and Manchester United — sides who at worst will be competing for Champions League spots — also do the Terriers no favors.
It is entirely possible their fate will ride on their season finale at Southampton in what could very well be a six-point belter. The more likely outcome, however, is they are not in position to escape the bottom three when that matchday arrives.
PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS
July 18 — Fulham July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace August 6 — Manchester City