For the first time in history, and almost half a century after their last top flight meeting, Huddersfield Town and Chelsea crossed paths in the Premier League. But the gulf in class and ambition between the two sides was drastically exposed, as Chelsea made short work of the newcomers in a comprehensive 3-1 victory. Goals from Tiemoué Bakayoko, Willian and Pedro set Chelsea on their way before Laurent Depoitre grabbed a late consolation for the hosts.
Antonio Conte made several changes to the starting lineup that disappointed in Saturday’s loss to West Ham. Captain Gary Cahill made way for Antonio Rüdiger, while midfielder Cesc Fàbregas took no part in the 3-4-3 that featured N'Golo Kanté and Tiemoué Bakayoko in the center of midfield. Up front, Pedro and Willian were the wide forwards with Eden Hazard as the reference. Despite Álvaro Morata's absence due to a back problem and Michy Batshuayi's return from injury, Conte still saw a reason to not play Michy from the start.
With Huddersfield donning their traditional colours of a white shirt with blue stripes, Chelsea had to trot out the rarely seen third kit. But although the home team had the advantage in picking their uniform, it seemed as if they were playing away from their home ground from the get-go.
Sitting deep, compact, and narrow, and with 10-11 players behind the ball, it was obvious that Huddersfield manager David Wagner had watched Chelsea's 1-0 loss to West Ham three days prior and was clearly hoping that the Blues would be just as fruitless as they were against the Hammers. And early doors, it seem like it would be another frustrating match for the men in Blue.
However, Wagner's side, on the rare occasion that they had the ball, were nowhere near as effective than West Ham. Chelsea high press was giving them loads of trouble in their attempts to play from the back, forcing goalkeeper Jonas Lössl to go long just to see his side losing the aerial challenge, or go short just to see the ball intercepted. In the first half, they only had one shot and that, too, was blocked.
Chelsea were initially finding it difficult to breach Huddersfield's lines and beat the offside trap. But eventually the passes and the touches got dialed in, Eden Hazard got comfortable as he could ever be at center forward, and Chelsea started to move the ball to get the wide players involved. Unlike on Saturday, the wing-backs were greatly influential and made good use of the space afforded to them by the hosts’ tactics.
Still, it was Chelsea’s defensive work that got us the game’s first goal, with the high press forcing the mistake and taking advantage with some slick passing.
The constant freezing rain had made the pitch at Kirklees Stadium extra slippery, and ironically that was the undoing of the home side. On an attempt to play the ball long and out of danger under pressure from Pedro, Lössl slipped and sent the ball straight to Moses. The wing back was quick to play the ball to Eden, whose amazing backheel to Willian took out the rest of Huddersfield's defence. Willian, instead of taking the shot, did the smart thing and passed to the marauding Bakayoko, running from deep, who finished coolly with his weaker foot over the despairing goalkeeper. It may yet go down as an own goal, but for now, it’s Bakayoko’s second tally of the season and perfectly timed given the recent negative pressure on him from the media and fans.
Huddersfield’s resolve was almost completely broken by that goal and Chelsea were finding it increasingly easier to break them down. Part of that was due to better movement from the front three (as Hazard also talked about in his post-match interview) and part of that was due to more accurate passing out to the wings.
It was through Marcos Alonso on the left that Chelsea’s second goal would duly arrive.
Captain César Azpilicueta switched play from right to the left flank with a masterful pass to a wide open Marcos Alonso, who had all the time in the world to put in a great cross to Willian. Willian’s marker inexplicably missed the ball completely, leaving Willian with a simple, if rare headed finish.
Pedro could’ve made it three just before half-time, but his shot was straight at Lössl.
David Wagner's half-time change of taking off Jonathan Hogg for another midfielder in 35-year-old veteran Dean Whitehead made absolutely no difference, as Chelsea resumed right where we left off: complete domination.
Huddersfield remained deep, narrow and entrenched, with plenty of space to explore on the flanks. Pedro didn’t have to wait long to make up for his miss, with Alonso once again conducting the play from the left flank.
This time, it was Bakayoko with the telling initial pass. Another sweet cross in from Alonso was defended a bit better, but Willian’s tenacity eventually got the ball to Pedro, who finished well from the top of the area. Game, set, match with 40 minutes still left on the clock.
Instead of letting Huddersfield grow into the match after picking up such a large advantage on the scoresheet, Chelsea chose to keep up their pressure, albeit without further damage inflicted on the hosts. Pedro alone could have very well recorded a hat-trick today with the chances he got after his goal, but he had to settle for just the lone strike.
Conte eventually rang the changes, giving much needed respite to the likes of Eden, Kanté and Andreas Christensen — Batshuayi, Danny Drinkwater and Ethan Ampadu, respectively, coming on, the latter for his Premier League debut — as the clock slowly wound down. Huddersfield finally showed some signs of life in the final ten minutes and even got a consolation goal in stoppage time, which was certainly annoying for Thibaut Courtois (who was a virtual spectator up to that point) and Antonio Conte (who, like Courtois, would’ve no doubt wanted the clean sheet), but mattered little beyond those hurt feelings.
A good response to Saturday’s defeat then, with Chelsea getting back to winning ways in quick and dominating fashion. Now it’s time to build on this once again, with Southampton at home next and plenty left to fight for in the battle for the top four for the rest of the season.
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