Premier League 17/18: Manchester United vs Huddersfield Town – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The Terriers go to Old Trafford with the possibility of completing the double over the Red Devils for the first time in 88 years.
15:00 GMT, Saturday 3rd February, Old Trafford (Manchester, England)
While the highlight of Huddersfield’s season so far could arguably be their win in the reverse fixture, their league form has suffered since that game in October.
Having slipped from mid-table with alarmingly little fight, they’re currently the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation despite being four points ahead of West Brom.
A run of seven league games without victory, including defeats in each of their last four, and an unwanted FA Cup replay will test David Wagner’s side in the coming weeks. However, a win this weekend could work to reverse their fortunes once again.
Manchester United fans have been given a roller-coaster ride this week. The feelings of euphoria from “winning” the transfer window were replaced by dejection that came from the reality of losing at Wembley.
José Mourinho now needs to pick up his players and restore them to the winning ways which had seen them win every other fixture through January.
With a host of important games looming ever-closer, Mourinho will also need to guard against the complacency which lost them the match in their previous encounter with Huddersfield.
Last Time Out
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Manchester United (Premier League)
Manchester United failed to recover from a nightmare start but were ultimately sunk by their own defender.
Conceding a goal after 11 seconds is not the best way to begin an important match. However, they did respond well to Christian Eriksen’s quick strike.
When Phil Jones sliced a clearance past David de Gea, the writing appeared clearly on the wall though.
Played at a relentless pace for much of the game, the away side failed to exert any control over the game with both Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba proving ineffective, the latter of whom being substituted after an hour.
There was also a short cameo for Marouane Fellaini who was forced from the field with an ankle injury only 7 minutes after coming on.
With United’s players unable to break Spurs down, they finished the game lacking any sort of fight with their belief. Visibly drained during the closing stages of the match, it was evident that they knew just how well-beaten they had been before the final whistle came.
Huddersfield Town 0-3 Liverpool (Premier League)
A disjointed performance from the Terriers saw them easily beaten by Liverpool and fail to register a goal for the fourth time in five league games.
David Wagner tried to use the element of surprise in his team selection, using loan-signing Terence Kongolo to create a system with three centre-backs for only the second time this season.
It was in attack that his players struggled though, especially at the very top of the pitch where Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounie failed to complement each other.
Although they will have trained together, this was the first time they’ve started a match together and their understanding still requires much work on this evidence.
There was also a welcome return to the team for Philip Billing who returned from an injury which has kept him out of action for over three months.
Lacking match sharpness, he failed to grow into the game, although the same could be levelled at Huddersfield’s general play as they failed to find a way of troubling Liverpool throughout most of this match.
Manchester United Lineup
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Eric Bailly (ankle) and Daley Blind (knock) all continue to miss out for United but Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelöf, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw can all expect recalls for this weekend’s match.
Huddersfield Town Lineup
Elias Kachunga (knee), Jon Gorenc Stankovic (fitness), Martin Cranie (ankle) and Danny Williams (knock) are all unavailable again for this weekend’s match.
However, the formation to be used by Wagner in this match remains a mystery after he attempted to use a 5-3-2 system against Liverpool to mixed results.
With the fresh players available to him more suited to the usual 4-2-3-1 system, he should revert back to this lineup for this match.
Key Battle: Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) vs Christopher Schindler (Huddersfield Town)
Having looked like a player rediscovering his form through January, Lukaku was once again an invisible player on the pitch against Tottenham.
His reputation for failing to perform against top sides was yet again enhanced at Wembley with only one assist to show from the six league encounters he’s had this season against top-six teams.
Regarded by many as a flat-track bully who plays well against the “smaller” teams, the Belgian forward will be expected to do well but more-so needs to do well to put his season back on track.
Looking to prevent him will be a player who has been the Terriers most consistent, top performer this season.
Whether Wagner decides to use three, four or five defenders in Manchester, Schindler will be the first name pencilled into the defence.
Having won each of his attempted challenges on the ground and in the air against Liverpool, he will present a strong opponent for the Manchester United man to negotiate.
A sharp reminder
The old adage of “starting as you mean to go on” seems an incredibly apt way to describe United’s recent match against Tottenham.
The debate may rage as to what exactly went wrong on the Wembley pitch for United on Wednesday. However, the players’ mentality played a large part of this.
Mourinho said after the game that the second goal had delivered a hammer-blow to his players’ confidence but there were already signs of this from the beginning.
The fact that nobody made a fully-committed challenge during the opening seconds suggests a sense of entitlement was stronger in the collective mindset than a determination to earn the win.
This was also the problem which brought about United’s downfall at the John Smith’s Stadium in October.
With imminent games to come against Chelsea, Liverpool and a two-legged tie facing Sevilla, the only positive to come from this inept display could be for it to serve as a timely reminder about over-confidence and application.
Trial and error
Having tried to field a new system against Liverpool, there was much left for David Wagner to ponder after the match.
The 5-3-2 formation he used makes the most of his defensive options and provides, in theory, a more solid platform for a team with the league’s second-worst defensive record.
Against Liverpool’s heavily-lauded attack, the Terriers defenders looked solid and comfortable in their new roles. Jonathan Hogg was used as a shield in front of the centre-backs and also finished the game as one of his teams better players, however, they still conceded three goals.
Where the system ultimately failed was further up the field. The midfield and forward players were unable to contribute very much of note during the game.
Coupled with the fact the wing-backs rarely ventured forward, Huddersfield’s poor ball retention meant they spent the vast majority of the game trying to keep the Red’s at bay.
With more balance in the team’s set-up this system could work well, however, it does not appear that a quick fix is on the horizon for Huddersfield with this tactic.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Huddersfield Town
The nature of United’s abject performance against Tottenham should see them come out with a lot to prove in this match.
Meanwhile, Huddersfield have found themselves in a run of poor form which extends far longer than their midweek game and, although they will be buoyed by knowing they’re capable of beating this Manchester United team, lightning is unlikely to strike twice between these two teams this season.