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Chelsea vs. Huddersfield Town, Premier League: Opposition Analysis

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Chelsea badly need an easy win to get them back into the groove and ease pressure on Maurizio Sarri. A home fixture at home to the Premier League’s bottom side has suddenly become a must-win game.

Huddersfield Town v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

The Season So Far

The fat lady isn’t singing yet, but she’s fully rehearsed and is waiting for the call in her dressing room. Huddersfield are, to no-one’s surprise, bottom of the Premier League, twelve points off 17th place and looking like the hopeless bunch of journeymen and bargain basement buys that they are. They won’t end up in the record books as the worst Premier League side of all-time — by accruing 11 points already, they’ve given themselves half the season to beat Derby County’s miserable tally from 2007-08 — but not since Derby or Blackpool a few seasons later has an outfit looked as fundamentally ill-equipped to handle the demands of this level.

Huddersfield have won only two Premier League games all season, beating similarly inadequate Fulham at home in November and then stunning Wolves at Molineux two weeks later. Since that victory, however, the wheels have come off — their record is played 11, won 0, drawn 1, lost 10. Morale collapsed and, their lack of any kind of quality plain for all to see, their relegation all but confirmed. The focus at the John Smith’s Stadium is now on the long-term future.

David Wagner, worker of miracles in first getting the Terriers promoted and then keeping them up, has thrown in the towel and is now recharging his batteries ahead of his next job, which will surely be at a club with much bigger ambitions and resources. In his place is another former Dortmund II man, Martin from Wakefield Jan Siewert, whose task is not to avoid relegation but to ensure that their return to the Championship is a success. Such reasonable demands and expectations should ensure that the Huddersfield ship, while undoubtedly taking on large quantities of water, doesn’t sink.

The Season Ahead

Everyone in the squad is now playing for his long-term future and Siewert’s aim will be to assess which players will be needed next season and which are to be jettisoned. At the same time, he will transmit his tactical ideas and aim to build an identity in the side so that they can come flying out of the blocks at the start of 2019-20. The tail end of Wagner’s tenure saw him lose faith in his team to such an extent that they pretty much stopped playing football and parodied Pulisball for some reason, but Siewert will try to steer them away from such evil and back towards something approaching civilised play.

A major task will be to convince Philip Billing and Aaron Mooy that their futures are at Huddersfield. Of the Terriers’ squad, it would be a surprise if anyone else was poached to come back to the Premier League, but Billing and Mooy will certainly have suitors offering better contracts and more appetising prospects in May. Each would take some replacing.

Tactics

One of the signs that Wagner had lost faith in his squad and in his ideas was that he couldn’t settle on a formation that got the best out of his team. In their 24 Premier League games, Huddersfield have started with nine different formations, only playing two more than twice. They have played a back three and a back four with almost equal regularity but rarely for any continued length of time. Admittedly, the tools at Wagner’s disposal were hardly what he needed, but changing the system every week hardly made his team play above themselves.

Siewert played a more proactive, footballing 4-3-3 in the midweek game at home to Everton, and it was noticeable that Huddersfield played a much more progressive, controlled style of play, moving the ball slowly and carefully up the pitch before feeding the wingers and looking to create chances around the opposition box. While this may not yield many results at first – especially with such a miserable lack of talent up front – it’s surely a necessary evolution for the Terriers if they aim to become a powerhouse in the Championship.

Strengths

Strong social media game.

Philip Billing, who’s injured.

That’s it.

Weaknesses

Manchester City have already scored more goals in 2019 than Huddersfield scored in 2018. And that’s not down to bad luck – Huddersfield have by far the lowest Expected Goals figure in the Premier League, full 6 xG worse than the next side. Even for a team looking as open and vulnerable as Chelsea do right now, Huddersfield’s attack is nothing to worry about.

Their defence is much better than many observers realise — and while the Terriers have been a top-flight side, they’ve never had a particularly leaky defence — but their inability to score goals is so chronic than one goal is often enough to beat them. They’ve lost 1-0 five times already this season and no-one would be surprised if this was their sixth defeat by that scoreline.

Expected XIs

Siewert will surely look to stop the chopping and changing at some point, but with fatigue still a major concern for every Premier League manager at the moment, it’s hard to say which eleven he’ll plump for in his second game in charge. Billing is close to fitness after a knee injury, and it wouldn’t be a surprise were he to start.

As for Chelsea, rotation should be expected. David Luiz may keep his place after yet another headless chicken showing at Bournemouth, or he could quite understandably be bludgeoned to death by any one of Maurizio Sarri, his teammates or one of Roman Abramovich’s bodyguards. Marcos Alonso should return after finally being afforded a rest, while Gonzalo Higuaín should start again despite fitness concerns, this being the most optimal chance imaginable to get a few goals under his considerable, load-bearing belt.

Prediction

It really should be Chelsea 5-0 Huddersfield, but would a nerve-wracking, vein-busting 1-0 really surprise anyone? Defeat, on the other hand, is unthinkable, and the consequences would be apocalyptic.