As the joint-lowest scorers in the Premier League last season, Huddersfield Town’s miraculous survival very much hinged on a heroic rearguard action.
Facing Man City (the current champions) and Chelsea (the former Champions) in back to back games, Town showed the tenacity and character needed to defy the odds and secure their stay in the Premier League for another season, at the very least.
Many factors played a part in this change of fortunes.
David Wagner’s tactical flexibility to switch systems undoubtedly helped. However, it was the arrival of Terence Kongolo from AS Monaco in the winter transfer window which was equally as influential.
Prior to the Dutchman’s arrival, Town had conceded forty-four goals in twenty-seven Premier League matches. This included Town conceding three or more goals on seven separate occasions.
The arrival of Terence Kongolo on loan changed all of that.
Aside from the sobering 4-1 defeat to West Ham United (in which Kongolo played a bit part role as a second-half substitute) and the subsequent defeat at home to Liverpool, Town would go the remainder of the season without conceding more than two goals in a single match.
The correlation between Town’s impressive defensive solidity and the arrival of Kongolo was clear to see as Town conceded just fourteen goals (nine of which was against Top Six opposition) in the twelve Premier League matches that he started.
This made the permanent signing of the Dutch international all the more impressive.
As well as being a clear statement of intent by David Wagner and Town, it also suggests that the enigmatic bespectacled head coach is looking to build the team from the back.
One of the interesting points of contention which won’t be answered until much later in the summer is whether David Wagner will remain religiously committed to the 4-2-3-1 formation or whether he will look to implement a variation of the 5-2-2-1.
The acquisition of Kongolo leans towards the latter.
As the relationship between Kongolo, Christopher Schindler and Zanka is already forged and thriving, Town have a head start on some of their rivals who will look to recruit heavily this summer.
The question is then, if David Wagner is looking to build around this cohesive three-man defence, will he scour the transfer market in search of full-backs that naturally fit the new system?
It would seem that Florent Hadergjonaj with his energy and athleticism already seems to be the perfect fit for the system on the right hand side.
Hadergjonaj has all the traits of a modern wing-back as he can offer width with his forward arrays as well as having the ability to play as an inverted full-back by contributing towards the press in the midfield. This is something we’re likely to see next season if David Wagner opts to persist with this system.
However, it would also suggest that Town are in the market for a left-sided full-back who can do a similar role to Hadergjonaj and provide the balance needed for the system to be a success.
Needless to say, the permanent acquisition of Terence Kongolo ensures that Town will begin the season with a defensive unit that will draw envious looks in the bottom half of the Premier League table.
We will have to wait until much deeper into the summer after further recruitment to see precisely how David Wagner will build upon these rock-solid foundations laid.