13:30 KO (BST); Sunday 20th August; John Smith’s Stadium (Huddersfield, England) Sky Sports
A dream start to life in the Premiership needs to be pushed to the back of Huddersfield’s collective mind for their first home game of the season. Having played Newcastle in the Championship last year and lost the corresponding fixture, David Wagner will be urging his players to look forward rather than back but there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Having surprised many people with their performances last season and kept the core of their team together, Huddersfield will be well versed in what’s expected of them, unlike last weekend, this time they may be fully expected to win.
Rafael Benitez surprised the footballing world when he moved from Real Madrid to Newcastle, then shocked people all over again when he decided to stay at the club despite suffering relegation from the Premiership. Benitez clearly sees his role at Newcastle as part of a long-term project, something which is not being picked up on by very many in the mainstream media.
After his uncomfortable re-introduction into the Premier League last weekend, not very many people will be expecting his depleted side to pick up a win in Huddersfield, however, he does seem to have a habit of surprising.
LAST TIME OUT
Crystal Palace 0 – 3 HUDDERSFIELD (Premiership)
It wasn’t the result, it was the manner in which they achieved victory that served to win much praise for the Premiership newcomers. A positive performance that mixed style and substance was embellished by the fact that the Terriers played as a collective force rather than a collection of individuals. While nine of Huddersfield’s first starting line-up were familiar faces, it was one of the new additions who grabbed the headlines.
Steve Mounié scored twice from the three shots he had on goal, yet there are many other reasons for Terriers fans to be excited about their new striker. The desire he showed throughout the match will perhaps top this list though, not only in the determination he showed to win the header which gave him his first goal but his relentless work-rate which can be summed up by the five defensive clearances he made for his team.
This effort in fighting for the cause embodied the overall Huddersfield performance against Palace as Wagner’s team employed the same pressing style on Saturday which carried them so far last season. How far it will take them this year now seems a tantalising question.
NEWCASTLE 0 – 2 Tottenham (Premiership)
There are some games that are worse for the team than the scoreline suggests and this was one of those games. The loss of Paul Dummett and then Florian Lejeune to serious-looking injuries will be a major concern for Benitez, while the deserved red card for Jonjo Shelvey at the beginning of the second-half further compounded matters.
While the first-half suffered from a lack of flow in the game due to the injuries halting play, Newcastle will take heart from the fact Tottenham created little until Newcastle went down to 10 men.
There was also a short spell at 2-0 when Newcastle threatened the Spurs goal but largely, this was a game to forget for the Tynesiders. The Magpies attacking efforts were also blunted by a performance from Dwight Gayle which was best described as ineffective. Gayle hardly made any of his trademark runs across the box, while his first touch was also something which let him down against Spurs.
Huddersfield Town Lineup
Jonathan Hogg (ankle) and striker Nahki Wells (ankle) remain Wagner’s main injury concerns which could lead to an unchanged team to the one he fielded last week.
Newcastle United Lineup
Newcastle face major surgery on the defence which started last week due to Paul Dummett (hamstring) Florian Lejeune (ankle) and DeAndre Yedlin (hamstring) all being unavailable for this match. Jonjo Shelvey will be suspended following his red card which should pave the way for Mikel Merino to make his first competitive start for Newcastle while Joselu could also start after Dwight Gayle looked unfit to start last weekend.
Key Battle: Steve Mounie vs Joselu
Both teams will look at their main striker to engineer a goal to win this game for them. Huddersfield appears to have uncovered a diamond in the shape of Mounie, a forward who seems to have every desirable skill at his disposal and exactly the type of player the Terriers direly needed last season. After his two goals against Palace Mounie will be a player full of confidence, something which could prove hugely beneficial when facing a makeshift Newcastle defence.
With Gayle looking off the pace last weekend, new signing Joselu could well be heading directly into the starting line up for the Magpies. Having come through a successful pre-season at Stoke, the Spanish striker should be fit and ready for action and playing as a lone striker will make it easier for him to conform to the system his team play.
He will also have the advantage of the confidence a change of club and a new opportunity presents while he will be hungry to show why he deserves a place in the squad after this match. As an unknown quantity, Joselu will present a different danger to that posed by Mounie, but a danger that could equally produce its own reward.
With Newcastle likely to sit deep and invite Huddersfield to try to break them down, the Terriers will require guile and nous in the centre of the pitch to orchestrate their attacks. With Aaron Mooy and Philip Billing, they have exactly that. Having played together for a large part of last season, both players link well while offering an attack-minded midfield that will suit a game in which they’re expected to push forward.
With Mooy providing the defensive cover and a technical touch to help control play, Billing can move further up the pitch which is where he is best used. This doesn’t appear to be a permanent arrangement though, as Mooy was often found breaking from his position at the base of midfield to support his team’s attacks.
This is only manageable when the two midfielders have a deep understanding of their roles and with each other. Something that their opponents’ midfield is unlikely to possess considering they’ve never played together for a full 90 minutes yet.
Trust in potential
When you don’t have the finances to compete with the wealthier teams in your division, you need to act shrewdly with the players that you do bring into the fold. Huddersfield managed exactly that last year after they finished the previous campaign in 19th position.
Wagner invested the money available in bringing players he knew from the German league who were capable of playing the system he wanted the club to adopt. By mixing some promising talent amongst them, Wagner created the league’s surprise package.
This season it has been Newcastle in need of a player overhaul, something which appears to have been timed unfortunately given the current state of the transfer market. Benitez’s big investments so far have been Jacob Murphy and Florian Lejeune, while Mikel Merino has also been brought in on loan with the prospect of shoring up the midfield. All of these players are unproven at this level and it constitutes a risk, but perhaps a risk which was the only serious option available to Benitez.
The Magpie’s wings
The greatest strength possessed by the Newcastle squad is most definitely their wing-players. Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu are the two players who are most likely to make something happen for the Toon both in terms of providing assists and taking chances themselves. With Benitez favouring a counter-attacking brand of football, the pace of these players are his main outlet to hit the opposition with.
With a potential for Joselu to start in attack for Newcastle, this will also give them something extra to aim for thanks to the Spanish striker’s physical dominance and more pointedly, his aerial threat. With Jacob Murphy recently bought from Norwich and available in reserve, Benitez’s wingers appear to be clearly something he values highly, especially considering this level of depth in almost every other area of the pitch for Newcastle.
PREDICTION: Huddersfield Town 1 – 1 Newcastle United
The Terriers will be on a natural high following their win over Palace while Newcastle will have their backs against a wall following the injuries they received in their defeat to Spurs. With Newcastle struggling to paper the cracks in their team in only the second week of the season, they should, on paper at least, be expecting a second-straight defeat, however, I can see them snatching a draw to spoil Huddersfield’s homecoming party.
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