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Drawing Parallels

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Whilst most of the post-match analysis of this harrowing defeat to Swansea City will be done as a cut-throat post-mortem of a performance that was lacking in almost every department, I will attempt to provide you with a different perspective.

A perspective which looks at the much bigger picture but which may leave some of you thinking that I am clutching at straws. Others may take some solace out of the conclusions that I draw.

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On the 5th November 2015, Dean Hoyle made the brave decision to appoint David Wagner. The enigmatic head coach was not even a relative unknown, he was a complete unknown.

Instead of another middle management British manager who had the experience and know-how to steer Town to an 18th placed finish, Dean Hoyle took a risk.

Two years later and the risk has undoubtedly paid off as Town bask in the glow of Premier League football in front of a sold-out crowd.

However, it should be said, Town’s meteoric rise over the course of the past two seasons has been far from plain-sailing.

Although we as fans could see the club was moving in the right direction, it was not always reflected on the pitch and this is where six parallels can be seen between the past two seasons and Town’s current struggles.

Adaptation

Following the arrival of David Wagner, it was almost immediately, a culture shock. On a macro and micro scale, much-needed change was the buzzword of choice.

From changing the habitual pre-match routines to the time that training took place, David Wagner scrutinised every aspect of the club and acted accordingly.

It was this meticulous method carried out by Wagner which saw the club as a collective adapt to accommodate Wagner and his continental methods.

This season, following Town’s surprise promotion to the Premier League, the club has had to adapt once again on a macro-scale.

Instead of Wagner driving these changes on a mass scale, it was now the Premier League which was enforcing change.

On the micro-scale, we saw Wagner having to adapt to life in England and more importantly life in the Championship.

Despite the fact that he is now in a settled environment with a set of players that he has brought together, Wagner is adapting to the Premier League. As is his squad and more broadly, the club as a whole.

This is an important point to note. If we were in our second Premier League season and we were having these problems then I would be much more concerned.

How long this period of adaptation will take? I do not know. Having said that, Wagner has already once demonstrated his ability to adapt and evolve and I believe that he will again.

Error-strewn performances

As part of the process of adaptation, Wagner’s philosophy demanded a brave playing style which started from the back.

In the Championship, very few sides opted to play out from the back and there were teething problems for Town, particularly in the first season.

There were many examples of Wagner’s side putting themselves under pressure and often making costly mistakes from playing out of the back.

This has also been visible this season and it was clear to see when Jonas Lössl’s attempt to play out of the back was intercepted and directly led to Swansea’s vital first goal.

Even though, some of Wagner’s back four has experience playing out the back and others including Zanka have a history of doing it, I feel that this period of adaptation extends to this style of play.

In the Premier League, the pressure placed on the defence when in possession is far greater than it ever was in the Championship and it will take time for Town to get used to the ferocity of the league.

It is unusual that Town started the season with such an excellent defensive record but as these errors have crept into Town’s game, I believe there is a somewhat crisis of confidence in the side.

A crisis of confidence which stems from Town’s struggles in front of goal.

Impotence in front of goal

One of my first memories of David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town was his first home match against a Middlesbrough side which would go on to win promotion to the Premier League.

Despite dominating the game and large passages of the play, Town went on to lose 2-o despite having had 75% of possession.

Even then, it was clear to see that Town’s impotency in front of goal was holding Wagner’s side back from being a top side.

Last season, despite eventually gaining promotion to the Premier league in the most dramatic of circumstances, Town’s lack of goals was the major issue.

In the top half of the Championship, only Derby County with fifty-four goals scored less than Town’s fifty-six goals in forty-six Championship matches.

Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that Town are facing similar issues in the Premier League.

Wagner has looked to address this issue. The arrival of Steve Mounie, Laurent Depoitre and Tom Ince were all major upgrades on Town’s current attacking options.

Yet, these signings have not yet changed Town’s fortune in front of goal. So the question has to be asked, is it a systematic issue which sees Town struggle to break sides down and score at will? Perhaps.

However, I feel that it’s more a question of service. Without quality consistent service from the wide positions, be that the wingers or full-backs, Town are struggling to feed their striker and Depoitre was very much starved against Swansea City.

Despite this goal-scoring issue being a major concern for myself and Town fans alike, it’s worth noting that it is an issue for half of the Premier League.

Town are far from alone when it comes to the struggles in front of goal. In Town’s case, it may be a matter of finding a regular source of goals, possibly in the shape of Steve Mounie, which alleviates some of Town’s current woes.

Heavy Defeats

It was a combination of time needed to adapt and error-strewn performances, particularly in the first season but also at times last season, which meant that Town were on the receiving end of heavy defeats.

Even though, we could see that Town were heading in the right direction before last season’s monumental effort, Town’s last two games of the 2015-16 season were harrowing defeats.

A Lee Tomlin inspired 4-0 thrashing at Ashton Gate was followed by an abject 5-1 defeat to Brentford at home on the final day of the season.

Similarly last season, there were heavy defeats to Bristol City and Fulham which seemed out of character compared to Town’s strong defensive performances throughout the season.

Some of that was due to individual errors and collective defensive mishaps but in the face of those defeats, David Wagner continued to pursue relentlessly with this philosophy which in the end earned Town promotion to the Premier League.

This season, we have already seen Tottenham Hotspur take Town apart and whilst the defeats to West Ham and Swansea weren’t of as large a margin, they were equally disappointing performances.

However, the parallels that I draw is highlighting the fact that the philosophy that David Wagner ascribes to leaves Town open to these heavy defeats.

Whilst losing by a large margin can be demoralising, it is more a demonstration of the inconsistencies that Wagner’s side has rather than inherent problems that need addressing.

International Break Dilemma

Having said that, an issue that plagued Town particularly last season but also this season is the international break.

Following the two-week break for international fixtures, the following game has always been one that Town have struggled in.

Last season, Town won only one of the six games that was in the immediate aftermath of the international break.

Most notably, the home defeats to Wigan Athletic and Burton Albion and the defeats away at Preston North End, Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday were all performances that were severely lacking.

One of the most obvious reasons for this was the impact that the international break had on Town’s talisman Aaron Mooy.

The Australian playmaker’s importance to how the side performs cannot be understated and when he is jaded and often fatigued after a difficult week of travelling and tough international football, it has a telling effect.

Aside from the expected defeat to Spurs, both of Town’s Premier League defeats have come directly after the international break and it is no coincidence when looking at the pattern that has emerged from last season.

This season, Wagner has attempted to rectify this in two ways. Firstly, we saw the implementation of an impromptu friendly against Altona in the two-week period between the Southampton game and the West Ham game.

Secondly, we saw Wagner make the brave decision to rest Aaron Mooy in what some would argue is a must-win game.

Despite the implementation of these changes to attempt to rectify this issue, the international break dilemma is something to take into consideration when placing this defeat to Swansea into context.

League Position

The final parallel that I can draw between Town’s current issues and Wagner’s first season managing Town was the league position.

After taking over from Chris Powell in early October, Wagner had thirty games to impose his philosophy and rescue Town’s season.

Town’s eventual league finish was nineteenth in the Championship. Considering what Town achieved the following season, it wasn’t a true reflection of Wagner’s managerial acumen.

If anything, Town’s league finish was more symptomatic of a below-par squad with comfortably one of the best managers outside of the Premier League.

The solace to take out of this comparison is that Wagner knows how to do enough to get over the line and that is what Town will have to do this season.

If Town can replicate Wagner’s first season in charge and finish three places above the relegation zone, it will be his most remarkable achievement to date. To do so, he will need to address the issues that I’ve raised above.

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These parallels provide a partial context of why Town have recently struggled, highlighting these issues has also demonstrated that David Wagner is looking to rectify these issues. Some will be solved by returning players- either to form or from injury. Others may need to be addressed in the January transfer window.

Either way, despite the disappointing nature of the defeat to Swansea and some of these issues which it highlighted, all is not lost. It is only a minuscule part of what was always going to be roller-coaster ride.

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