In one game this season, Huddersfield Town had 73.6% possession and still managed to lose. In the process, they set a new record for a team with the highest possession stats to lose a Premier League fixture.
To an outsider, they may be bemused by the idea. However, it is a sight that has grown all too familiar over the past eighteen months.
In fact, the defeat to Newcastle United was symptomatic of the issues that have plagued Town since their promotion to the top flight.
Possession without Purpose
It begins with overwhelming amounts of possession. However, since gaining promotion, Town have either lacked the quality or the invention to convert that possession into clear-cut chances.
Most of the possession is held in front of the opposition and thus poses them very little threat, making it possession without purpose.
The reserved patience shown by Town in their build-up play, as they carefully construct a move which finds themselves in a potentially threatening position in the final third, immediately evaporates once they are in sight of goal.
All composure is lost, any ice running through the veins prior to entering the final third swiftly melts and in its place, we see the side collectively overwhelmed by a form of amnesia who look short of ideas of how to create chances.
The Two-Pronged Issue
As well as that, on Saturday, we saw a two-pronged issue which will continue to undermine Town for the remainder of this season and beyond.
Town’s Static Attack
Normally, when we eventually get the ball into a wide position, we can attribute some of Town’s incompetency in front of goal down to poor service.
The main suspect for this in the past has been Florent Hadergjonaj who, despite picking up good positions seemed to aimlessly swing in crosses without actually looking to see where his teammates were positioned.
On Saturday, however, a broader issue was on show. The delivery into the box nor the quality of it was the issue. The static nature of Town’s attacking players, was.
This is one of the biggest differences between last season and this.
Laurent Depoitre of last season is anticipating and gambling that Florent Hadergjonaj is going to deliver a cross into the corridor of uncertainty, will bulldoze his way into the area and glance a header past the helpless goalkeeper.
This season, he is loitering at the edge of the box.
Florin Andone for Brighton showed us first-hand just how vital it is to have a striker that makes that run across the front post. We simply haven’t seen that this season from ours.
Town don’t commit enough men forward
Despite this, it would be unfair to lay the blame solely at Laurent Depoitre’s feet. In a dominant first half, with Newcastle United on the back foot for most of it, when Town did find themselves in a good crossing position, the second major issue was on show; the numbers in the box simply weren’t anywhere near enough.
Having Laurent Depoitre and Alex Pritchard (at a push) in the box for wide deliveries does not pose enough questions.
The case could be made that the three central midfielders that David Wagner elected to play against Newcastle United don’t naturally make late runs into the box.
However, I think by now, we know the fact that Town don’t commit so many men forward is instruction-based.
Whilst Town are pressing higher and subsequently holding a higher line, this side seems to be wrestling with the debilitating fear of being caught on the counter-attack and it is having a paralysing effect.
It is almost like they are caught in two minds.
They don’t have the self-belief needed to fully commit men forward and flood forward to allow wave after wave of purposeful worthwhile attacks to commence. At the same time, neither do they fall back and remain completely organised and regimented.
This is where I am worried. This issue won’t be addressed by the arrival of a striker or a good loan signing from a fellow Premier League side.
In fact, it’s difficult to see how David Wagner can address an issue unless there is a radical change in mentality in the coming weeks.
The most telling stat from the defeat to Newcastle was that despite only making 106 passes in the second half (compared to Town’s 355), Newcastle constructed the one penetrative move that deserved to win the game.
If Town are to change their fortunes, David Wagner and his side don’t need belief but courage. Courage, both as individuals and collectively, to gamble and anticipate. To do so, there has to be a willingness to commit men forward who don’t have the paralytic fear of being caught on the counter, at the back of their mind.
After all, fortune favours the brave.