Can Huddersfield Town waken from their long slumber?
Background image: Peter Turner, CC BY-SA 2.0
Having suffered Premier League relegation at March’s end, Huddersfield Town target making a return at the first attempt. The Terriers, though, haven’t regained their footing in England’s second tier. Can they manage to sooner than later?
David Wagner is a key figure in Huddersfield’s rise. Arriving in November 2015, the German quickly knitted together a squad to take the Championship by storm. After leading them to play-off promotion in 2017, his ideas soon brought top-flight success. Wagner’s men surprised many to finish 16th, four points above the drop zone.
The Terriers couldn’t maintain their high standard. Propping up the table in January was Wagner’s downfall. Jan Siewert came in as his successor, switching from Borussia Dortmund II. Faced with an improbable task, the Mayen-born failed to improve fortunes, leading to premature calls for him to go. His charges remained bottom, signing out 20 points from safety.
As with most relegated Premier League teams, Huddersfield had a big turnover this summer. Their 15 outgoings include goalkeeper Jonas Lossl’s free transfer to Everton, full-backs Chris Lowe and Erik Durm both returning to homeland with Dynamo Dresden, Eintracht Frankfurt respectively, right-back Tommy Smith joining Stoke City as well as forward Laurent Depoitre’s move to Genk. Their most notable departures were central midfielders Aaron Mooy, who’s on a season-long loan at Brighton & Hove Albion, and Philip Billing, who cost Bournemouth close to £15 million. The majority of that money was used to bring in right-winger Isaac Mbenza. Other significant arrivals were Liverpool U23 keeper Kamil Grabara, on a 12-month lease, in addition to central defender Tommy Elphick, costing nothing from Aston Villa.
Siewert’s side haven’t got off to the start they’d have hoped. They kicked off with a 2-1 defeat at home to Derby County 11 days ago. A 1-1 draw away at Queens Park Rangers to follow puts them in a lowly 19th position. The EFL Cup offered no salvation. They lost 1-0 to League One’s Lincoln City on Tuesday night.
That latest disappointment means Huddersfield are without a victory in all competitions since February. In those 13 games, they’ve suffered 10 defeats. During that period, 28 goals have been conceded, only seven scored. Obviously, then, improvement is needed. Do they have the right manager to deliver it?
At 36, Siewert is the Championship’s youngest boss. His 102 career matches overseen shows inexperience. His 5.6% win-rate in England provides concern. Own supporters are turning on him. The German’s stay is surely almost over unless he finds a swift solution.
Siewert needs a helping hand. His team’s yet to keep a clean sheet this campaign. He’s opted for Elphick and Christopher Schindler at centre-back in both league matches. They can potentially form a formidable partnership. Elphick played an important role in Bournemouth’s initial ascent under Eddie Howe. Schindler flourished when Wagner was at the helm. Each must rediscover that form.
Siewert’s centre-mids have to influence games, too. Jonathan Hogg and Juninho Bacuna are tasked with protecting the backline while keeping play ticking over. Grit coupled with a little skill is required to do so successfully. Hogg’s supplied such during his six years at the club. Bacuna, a Netherlands U21 international, can emerge as a reputable talent.
Further upfield, Siewert has preferred Alex Pritchard and Adama Diakhaby this season. The two are expected to provide creativity as well as to chip in with goals. Pritchard proved capable at Norwich City from 2016-18, netting eight times in 43 appearances. Diakhaby showed promise at Monaco to earn 25 matches. Other options include Rajiv van La Parra, who was crucial to Wagner’s success, along with big-money signing Mbenza.
It’s Siewert’s strikers who have most to prove. Since arriving permanently in West Yorkshire, Steve Mounie, Collin Quaner, and Elias Kachunga have scored only 12 league goals between them, in 140 contests.
Those three have to back up Karlan Grant’s effort. The 21-year-old netted four times in 13 games during last campaign’s Premier League. Having already scored twice this month, he’s one bright spark among few for Town fans. His form puts him as bookmakers’ second favourite to finish as the Championship’s top scorer.
Grant will be determined to continue producing against Fulham tonight. Huddersfield require all the help available in order to end their horrendous run. Home support can be a factor. As can the Cottagers’ poor away record. They won just one of 19 matches on their travels in 2018/19 before suffering a 1-0 defeat at Barnsley two weeks ago.
Following Fulham, win, lose, or draw, the Terriers must somehow gain momentum. Their next three games are a tough trip to Cardiff City, a home encounter against Reading then away at Luton Town. Four points is a minimum requirement.
Huddersfield’s elation not too long ago is threatening to turn into despair. There’s still an opportunity to correct things. Undeniably, Siewert is on borrowed time should poor results continue. He must improve his formula and hope his players master it.