Huddersfield vs Chelsea: 3 key battles facing Sarri and Wagner
Looking to get his debut Premier League campaign off to a winning start, Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea side will travel to an always resilient Huddersfield on Saturday.
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
After famously securing their Premier League status courtesy of a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge back in May, David Wagner’s Huddersfield side know they now have to do it all over again.
Making the trip to West Yorkshire on Saturday will be a new-look Chelsea now under the tutelage of former Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri. While the Italian received plenty of plaudits for his attacking style last year, the Blues have lacked a creative spark in pre-season and although some of Sarri’s squad have called for patience, time is not something generously handed out at Stamford Bridge.
Two sides with very different expectations this season, here’s a look at some of the key battles that could decide the outcome of Saturday’s result.
Laurent Depoitre vs Chelsea’s defense
After 90 minutes of chasing Manchester City around Wembley in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat in the Community Shield, Chelsea’s new boss knows his side will face a very different type of test on Saturday.
While the likes of Aaron Mooy and Jonathan Hogg epitomize their midfield tenacity, six foot three Laurent Depoitre is always a reliable out ball. Renowned for his physical presence and hustling from the front, the 29-year-old could make it another difficult afternoon for a partnership of David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger that is still in his elementary stage.
Swapping to a four at the back and still with question marks over Marcos Alonso’s ability to play as an out and out left-back, David Wagner will also be desperate to put early pressure on new Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, if he starts.
With Depoitre scoring six Premier League goals for the Terriers last season — including one at Stamford Bridge where he bulldozed through the heart of the Blues’ defense — Chelsea need to offer their new teammate plenty of protection on his debut in English football.
Recently compared to David de Gea’s arrival at Manchester United as a 21-year-old, Kepa has only spent one-day training with his new squad and could struggle to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League compared to La Liga.
Expected to put the pressure on from set pieces, Depoitre will be given the job of welcoming Chelsea’s new shot-stopper to England. With Huddersfield putting in the fourth most crosses last season, the question is, can Chelsea’s new look defense keep a hold of the big Belgian?
Aaron Mooy vs N’Golo Kante
After a summer of representing Australia at the World Cup, Aaron Mooy was unquestionably Huddersfield’s most influential man last season.
While the Terriers did end the year with the joint-worst attacking stats in the Premier League — scoring just 28 goals — the former Manchester City man played in each of the 38 games in the last campaign and is the man who pulls the strings at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Gaining a reputation for his ability to dictate the pace and pick a pass, Mooy should be on top of Chelsea’s men to watch.
As for the newly crowned World Cup winner and two-time PFA Player of the Year — even with former partner in crime Nemanja Matic heading to Old Trafford and having to spend large spells of last season playing alongside an irresponsible Tiemoue Bakayoko — Kante has remained Mr Consistent at Stamford Bridge.
Finishing the year with the most interceptions for the third season on the bounce, Kante also made the third most successful tackles in the Premier League.
Two men that are key influencers at different ends of the pitch, if one can get the upper hand on Saturday, it could be a key part of picking up three points.
Jonathan Hogg vs Eden Hazard
Although Thibaut Courtois made the switch to the Santiago Bernabeu before the transfer window shut, Chelsea fans will be glad to see their talisman has not made the move to the Spanish capital. For now anyway.
While their now former goalkeeper refused to report for training, Eden Hazard returned to Cobham and after making an appearance as a second-half substitute against Lyon, Sarri could risk chucking his main man straight into the action.
Unable to score more than a single goal in any matchup since a 2-0 win over Southampton in April, Chelsea are desperate for the 27-year-old to guide them in the final third.
Giving the likes of Mooy and Alex Pritchard the chance to play in a more advanced role, 29-year-old Jonathan Hogg was Huddersfield’s unsung hero in their dramatic survival last season.
the year with 93 successful tackles and seventh in the Premier League charts, Hogg will be an important man for the Terriers again and his first job could be keeping Hazard quiet.
While Hogg will start in the centre of the park, he could be asked to perform a similar duty to the one Ander Herrera did on the Belgium star at Stamford Bridge last year.
Replacing Alvaro Morata and playing as a false number nine in their 3-1 win back in December, Hazard will often come inside searching for the ball and when he does, Hogg will be given the job of trying to stifle the Belgian’s creativity.
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