15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 26th August; John Smith’s Stadium (Huddersfield, England)
Huddersfield are a team on a roll. Their winning start to their campaign is largely down to effort and organisation, while team spirit within the squad fostered by David Wagner seems to be playing its part.
With two more signings joining the club this week, Huddersfield are adapting to their new surroundings but they seem to be adapting quickly and adapting well. Wagner must now set his team up against a Southampton side who are also evolving, knowing that a win will give them nine points, something which was unimaginable this time last month. But when you’re on a roll…
Having not played each other since 2010, much has changed in the fortunes of these two clubs since then. Southampton have now finished in the top half of the Premiership table for the last four consecutive seasons and are a recognised force within the Premiership. With five different managers sitting in the St Mary’s hot-seat since May 2014 and a summer of transfer turmoil which goes as far back as memory allows, there has been a surprising amount of stability at Southampton.
While the Saints are currently re-adjusting to their new personnel again, they’ve made a solid start to this Premiership campaign and will look to build on this when they travel North to face an unfancied team who have visions of grandeur.
LAST TIME OUT
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 2 – 1 Rotherham United (EFL Cup – Second round)
Huddersfield made sweeping changes to their side and almost paid a heavy price before a second-half performance brought the game back under their control. With three players making the competitive debuts for Huddersfield, they showed great strength of character to fight back and claim a win after falling behind after only 69 seconds.
Despite an unspectacular game which was a victory ground out rather than inspired by a single player or incident, Kasey Palmer was one of the main players to impress for the Terriers.
It was Palmer that was fouled when making a run into the area in the 52nd minute which won the equalising penalty and he linked up well with Joe Lolley to create the winning goal two minutes later. As a regular player in last year’s squad, Palmer will be keen to continue his growth and development at Huddersfield, a team where the 20-year-old appears to be enjoying his football.
SOUTHAMPTON 0 – 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers (EFL Cup – Second round)
Last year’s beaten finalists in this competition fell at the first hurdle when Wolves deservedly beat a strong Southampton side. What made the result even more surprising was the fact that the Saints fielded five players from their previous Premiership fixture, where-as Wolves played a completely different side to their defeat against Cardiff three days earlier.
Southampton slowly played their way into the first half after a slow start but Wolves came back from the interval invigorated and stunned the Saints with a spirited and energetic performance.
While these are still early days for the new Southampton manager and it’s a competition which is not held in the highest esteem amongst players or fans, the nature of this defeat will no doubt leave Mauricio Pellegrino with much to contemplate.
Jonathan Hogg (ankle) and striker Nahki Wells (ankle) remain Wagner’s main injury concerns which could result in an unchanged team to the one fielded last week with neither Abdelhamid Sabiri or Florent Hadergjonaj expected to start following their transfers this week.
Virgil van Dijk is again not expected not to take part in this game for the Saints, while Mario Lemina will be assessed closer to kick-off as he took a knock to his shin in last weekends win over West Ham. Southampton do have new defender Wesley Hoedt available for selection, a centre-back who is being touted by the Saints as a player to feature alongside their current captain rather than replace the fellow Dutchman.
Key Battle: Elias Kachunga vs Ryan Bertrand
One of Huddersfield’s star players this season has received little praise despite replicating a similar level of form to last season. Kachunga was Huddersfield’s top scorer in the Championship with 12 league goals and he’s showing his value to the team already with an assist against Newcastle that saw them win a hard-fought match.
Facing a Southampton side that have looked defensively solid except for their previous game against West Ham, this will be a new test of his credentials as a Premiership footballer.
Tasked with halting the Huddersfield forward will be a Saints player who has been linked with several top Premiership sides during this transfer window. Ryan Bertrand is a player that provides as much in attack as he does in defence for the Saints.
In the true mould of a modern wing-back, Bertrand having made 4 key passes during the opening two Premier League games and with an average passing accuracy of 85%. With the midfield likely to be congested in this fixture, the flanks will possibly hold the key to victory for either side, with the teams best wing players going head-to-head directly.
The Huddersfield way
One thing that the Terriers have got very right about their approach to playing in the Premier League is having a strong identity. Everyone is now well aware of the style of football that Wagner expects of his side and this serves the team well in several ways. After using the gegenpressing style now for over a year, all the players fully knows what their individual and collective roles are on the pitch.
This also provides them with a confidence in their system, something which can mentally help a team fight through a game when things aren’t always falling in their favour. This belief has spread itself throughout the team and Huddersfield are a much more dangerous side because of this.
While their players and this system combine to leave them exposed in defence occasionally, their style also allows them a way back into the game which suggests that their fans will not be short of entertainment this year.
A Sinner of a Saint
Oriol Romeu has been the beating heart of Southampton’s midfield for several months now, with many believing him to easily be one of the top five holding midfielders in the Premier League. While Romeu learned his craft at Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, he is far removed from the style of footballer normally associated with a Barcelona midfielder.
While he’s accomplished at passing the ball and spreading play across the field, Romeu is growing a reputation as a no-nonsense midfield hard-man. A player who is hard but fair. While he has not acted overly aggressive and is yet to earn a red card in the Premier League, he did pick up 13 bookings last year.
It is this steel and determination which is helping drive the Saints forward, guiding the youngsters coming into the team from the Southampton Academy which will be required against a committed Huddersfield side this weekend.
PREDICTION: Huddersfield Town 2 – 2 Southampton
The Terriers will take to their home stage a team full of confidence, a confidence which David Wagner is not likely to allow to grow into complacency this early in the Premier League season. There will come a time this season when Huddersfield find themselves a victim of confidence when decisions, luck and results seem to go against them.
For now though, they should coat-tail the ride and I can see them taking an entertaining point from Southampton who have true Premier League quality but still seem to find their feet with their new manager.
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