Friday night sees an early season clash between two sides relegated from the Premier League last season. Huddersfield, who finished rock bottom, will be looking for their first league win of the season and a first win since February. Fulham didn’t fare much better last season, after a well-documented summer of spending backfired and three different managers, they are looking to bounce straight back to the Premier League.
As is the case with most teams relegated from the Premier League, both teams have had a summer of transition. Fulham have looked to strip back to the core team that got them promoted in the 17/18 season before adding further proven Championship class. They have shifted the majority of high profile flops such as Seri and Anguissa (departing to Turkey and Spain on loan) and replaced them with proven Championship players such as H. Reed, Knockhaert, Cavaleiro and Arter. Bobby Reid’s move from rivals Cardiff is particularly eye catching, leaving them well stocked in the attacking department. The defence does still remain a worry as demonstrated in their opening day defeat against Barnsley, however in the main the likes of Mawson and Bryan should be able settle back at Championship level, Mawson particularly impressing in the win against Blackburn. Despite a poor performance on the opening day as they were outperformed by newly promoted Barnsley, Fulham bounced back to beat Blackburn 2-0, with Mitrovic and Cairney picking up their first goals of the new season.
Huddersfield have also managed to keep together a number of the squad from the previous season together whilst looking to add lower league talent, with only two new signings featuring in the opening day defeat to Derby. Goalkeepers Lossl and Hamer departed, whilst full backs Smith and Lowe have also gone. However it is in the midfield where the biggest miss will be felt, with Mooy and Billing leaving and it can be argued that they haven’t been adequately replaced. Goals were also an issue last season. Top scorer Karlan Grant joined in January, and not enough appears to be done to add further depth. Fraizer Campbell has arrived on a free transfer following 12 goals for Hull last season, whilst Josh Koroma has joined following a successful season in the National League but is unproven in this division. Collin Quaner didn’t set the world alight at a loan spell with Ipswich, whilst Mounie’s return of 9 goals in the Premier League over two seasons will need to be improved on. Grant appeared isolated in the first game against Derby, struggling to cope with the physicality of the Derby defence, and similar struggles would be expected against Ream and Mawson. Huddersfield’s opening day defeat followed by a lackluster draw away at QPR where they could only manage 5 shots has highlighted a number of worries Siewart will have with his forward line, and if he is to improve his record of 1 win in 18 games, he will need to see a vast improvement against top quality opposition. Tuesday’s League Cup defeat at home to Lincoln where they drew another blank has added further pressure, although its worth noting he did make 10 changes for this game.
Talking Tactics – Huddersfield’s Midfield:
Key to Huddersfield going forward is Alex Pritchard, who showcased his class against Derby on the opening day. Often starting out wide, he is able to drift between the lines of defence and attack and pick up the ball in that space. However, the loss of Aaron Mooy to Brighton could impact upon his influence as Huddersfield will now require one of their remaining CMs to take control of games and create a supply line up to him.
This was highlighted in the game against QPR. Huddersfield’s goal came from a penalty won on the counter attack, whilst other major chances were restricted to long shots outside the box. They struggled to link midfield and attack, completing only 200 passes across the 90 minutes (at only 70% success), only 23 in QPR’s attacking third and only 1 in QPR’s box. The midfield 3 of Huddersfield particularly struggled to find Pritchard throughout the game, with only a combined 7 passes from the midfield 3 finding Pritchard. To contrast this, when Mooy played against Derby, the midfield completed 357 passes, with Mooy on his own finding Pritchard 8 times in the oppositions half. What this demonstrates is how Mooy would always give both the defenders and midfielders an outlet from the back, whilst also having the ability to pick the passes required to keep hold of the ball.
As a result, against Fulham, Huddersfield’s midfield two alongside Hogg should be looking to pick the ball up from deep and look to control the play much better. Chalobah, signed from Chelsea on Loan, is expected to do this and should come in, but it is a lot of pressure will be placed on the loanee. In an interview this week, defender Elphick did acknowledge the need for more control in the midfield, especially when leading games, and identified Chalobah as the main to come in and do this. However, his statistics last season for Ipswich suggest otherwise. Only averaging 0.4 key passes a game and a completion of 67.9%, it is massively under what Mooy (1.5 key passes and 80% success) was providing last season in the Premier League. It is worth noting that Chalobah was playing in a relegated side and is only 20 years old affording him a lot time to improve, however it doesn’t appear he has the quality to come straight in and replace Mooy which is what Huddersfield require.
Nullifying Pritchard’s threat will be fundamental to Fulham’s chances, and the lack of creativity following Mooy’s departure in Huddersfield’s midfield means that if Fulham can stifle the supply in a similar vain to what QPR and Derby did, it should improve their chances.
Last time they met:
Fulham ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a Mitrovic goal in the 90th minute.
It is currently hard to see past a Fulham win. In a game where they will expect to see little of the ball, Huddersfield’s midfield isn’t currently showing enough promise that they will be able to keep hold of the ball for long enough periods. Contrast this with the control that Arter, Cairney and Johansen will have for Fulham, and the attacking threat in front of them (in particular Mitrovic), it should be enough for Fulham to build on their win at home to Blackburn.
Prediction: Huddersfield 0-2 Fulham