While there have been a lot of quandaries for David Wagner and the Huddersfield Town fanbase to consider during our maiden Premier League season, no one debate has seen as many twists and turns as the discussion regarding the primary option up front.
When the Terriers got promoted to the top flight, the club’s top scorer amassed just 12 goals (despite playing for a large part of the campaign as a winger). It was then clear that investment was needed last summer to bring proven quality to the club, or risk an embarrassingly fruitless campaign at the hands of some of England’s (and Wales’) best.
Investment was exactly what followed; Steve Mounie arrived from Montpellier for a fee in the region of £11.4million and Laurent Depoitre signed from Porto for £3.4m. A new-look strike force to the tune of £15m gave Town fans hope that the team could adapt to life in the big league and score the required amount to stay in it.
But what exactly was Dean Hoyle getting for his money? Well, with Mounie the scouting report seemed simple. The 6ft3″ Benin international scored just one less Ligue 1 goal than Kylian Mbappe, scoring six headers and eight goals with his right foot, all inside the box. He also won a remarkable 293 aerial duels during the 2016/17 campaign with Montpellier.
Depoitre on the hand was seen as somewhat of an unknown quantity. Also standing at 6ft3″, the Belgian had his best spell at KAA Gent, earning Champions League experience and scoring 26 goals in 67 appearances for the Jupiler League side. However, a difficult spell at Porto following a €6m move followed and the switch to West Yorkshire was seen as somewhat of a fresh start for the 28-year-old.
If this discussion had been held after the 1-1 draw at St Mary’s against Southampton, the answer to most would have been obvious in terms of who was best suited to our style in the Premier League. Depoitre had bagged in back-to-back away games, including inspiring Wagner’s side to a 4-1 win at Watford and rescuing a point in the aforementioned game against the Saints.
Add to that the fact he scored what was effectively the winner against Manchester United, a goal against Chelsea and having a ridiculously catchy song to match; it’s fair to say that Laurent became the fan favourite.
Fast forward exactly 50 days and the reverse could be said. ‘Ole ole ole ole, Mounie, Mounie’ rang around the JSS at full-time after the 23-year-old had scored a brace (yes, I’m still calling it a brace, there’s no way that was an own-goal) to lift Town to a 4-1 win, without doubt their most important three points of the season so far. Town were out of the bottom three and as the players celebrated with the fans after the final whistle, it was Mounie who drew all the plaudits.
That’s not as a discredit to Depoitre by any means; more that Mounie has seized his chance to shine with another memorable home display. Two goals in the FA Cup fourth round against Birmingham got his scoring touch back and he rode that momentum to record another match-winning effort in a crucial fixture; just as he did against Crystal Palace on the opening day and Brighton earlier in the season.
It is also worth noting at this point that experimenting with two up front doesn’t seem to be the way forward. The 3-5-2 has looked far from polished when deployed; with the two strikers struggling to find chemistry and the situation often not lending itself to attacking football.
Let’s look at some stats. Firstly, it is worth noting that Depoitre has played 1518 minutes so far this season as opposed to Mounie’s 1113. The latter is superior in goals per 90 mins (0.48-0.3), assists per 90 (0.08-0.06), chances created per 90 (0.81-0.59), aerial duels won as a percentage (51%-46%) and total duels as a percentage (46%-42%).
Interestingly, Depoitre possesses the better shot accuracy at 64% (compared to Mounie’s 59%), while the pair are tied for successful take-ons at 0.65 per 90 minutes.
Before this is brought to a close, it must be made absolutely clear that both of Town’s strikers have an immensely important role to play this season. ‘Horses for courses’ is the expression which springs to mind; perhaps Wagner will prefer Depoitre to Mounie in games where his side will not see as much of the ball, as the former tends to be willing to do more of the dirty work and generally covers more ground.
However, the stats do not lie. Mounie has been more effective in scoring and creating goals for Town this season. At a point in the season where every goal is season-defining, it is up to Wagner to allocate the minutes accordingly and find the right formula.
For what it’s worth though, the Benin international must feel he is in with a decent shout of starting six of our next seven Premier League games and that could be the difference between us being over or under the dotted line come 5pm on May 13th.
[Stats via Squawka]