As another week ends we quickly sprint into another game where the surreal nature of the Premier League sinks in once more. On Saturday we welcome the team whom we took so much of our inspiration from in our magical promotion season, Leicester City.
The originators of the phrase ‘do a Leicester, their title-winning campaign gave hope to so many clubs from modest backgrounds.
Across the country so-called minnows of the game now believe that they too could upset the odds, confound the critics and produce a star-aligned season that enthrals the masses.
I’d like to think that we too have created a fairy tale of our own, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.
After the hugely disappointing defeat against West Ham United at the London Stadium on Monday, David Wagner’s side will be looking to put that defeat behind them and refocus their effort toward getting all three points on Saturday.
Back at the comfort surroundings of the John Smith’s Stadium, Saturday’s game will be a test of the players’ character and a chance to demonstrate that after such an impressive start, they will not fall into the pitfalls that became Hull City’s relegation campaign last season.
At Monday’s press conference, Wagner sounded angry at his team’s visible lack of bravery to impose themselves on the game.
After the 3 straight defeats away from home, the home crowd on Monday would have been jittery and nervous. If Town had shown their ‘Terrier Identity’ from the outset and had been aggressive and determined, the effect would have seeped through to the stands and possibly affected the West Ham players themselves.
What followed instead was a fear or timidity at their surroundings and some of the team seemed overawed by the big occasion.
In true honest fashion, Wagner echoed practically what every Town fan thought that night and indicated he will make changes on Saturday as a result.
Scott Malone came on for Chris Loewe who had a uncharacteristically poor game against a phenomenal Michail Antonio and Phil Billing’s performance portrayed a player who might be feeling the high-octane pace of the Premier League catching up to him.
If Jonathan Hogg is fully fit, I’d expect him to come in for him or Danny Williams to get his first start.
To think we have gone from trying to emulate Leicester’s title-winners to actually playing them is another champagne moment and even if Jamie Vardy scores on Saturday, a small part of me doesn’t mind it if it hears that infamous Jamie Vardy chant. It’s a very small part mind you.
If Wagner is to nullify the threat of Vardy, Okazaki & co, he must make sure we do not play a high-line and cut off the supply of long-balls over the top for Vardy to chase.
Zanka and Schindler cannot afford momentary lapses of concentration in possession and the wingers must help out the full-backs in order to stop Marc Albrighton and Christian Fuchs’ dangerous deliveries into the box.
Leicester may have lost several of their title-winning team in lynchpin N’Golo Kante and distributor and former Town man Danny Drinkwater but they have managed to keep hold of want-away flyer Riyad Mahrez and have made shrewd additions in former Hull City defender Harry Maguire whilst talented prospects like Demarai Gray have developed considerably under Craig Shakespeare’s tutelage.
Every football fan including myself were disgusted at the way now national football institution Claudio Ranieri was sacked mid-way through last season.
However, Leicester argued with their decision that there is little room for sentiment in football. Romanticism is dead, long live the cut-throat ruthlessness that permeates our beautiful game.
If Shakespeare struggles at any point during this season, there will be inevitable questions about his tenure and the response from the club will be telling with any decision highly scrutinised against their treatment of ‘King Claudio’.
Steve Mounié vs Harry Maguire
Apart from the game against Crystal Palace, Steve Mounié has largely been given poor service in the following games.
Whilst Mounie is being assessed for a knock that he picked up in the defeat against West Ham, the Beninese striker is still likely to feature for Town.
If Town are to hurt Leicester, it is imperative that he is found with high-quality deliveries. He will be up against Harry Maguire on Saturday who is a barn-door of a centre-back and I expect another hugely physical battle.
Christopher Schindler vs Jamie Vardy
On Monday, Schindler probably had the biggest physical examination of his ability since Matt Smith against QPR. He performed admirably despite his struggles against some target-men strikers.
On Saturday the juxtaposition could not be bigger with human red-bull can Jamie Vardy against him. The man even admitted his pre-match routine consists of downing some red bull to get energised.
His electric pace, dogged nature and spikiness will ensure Schindler is in another battle not just in his legs but his head as well.
Don’t bet against a few Vardy pipe-ups to both Schindler and the ref if things get messy.
Danny Williams vs Wilfrid N’Didi
After Billing’s indifferent performance on Monday, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Danny Williams given his first start.
After N’Golo Kante’s departure to Chelsea, Leicester tried to plug the gap by signing a player with a similar reputation.
Williams will be hoping to impose his all-court game on the Leicester midfield with N’Didi’s athleticism and industry providing a worthy physical battle in the centre of the park.
Tommy Smith vs Marc Albrighton
Tommy Smith has endured a mixed start to the campaign, with his best defensive performance coming in the 0-0 draw against Southampton (aside from a single lapse in concentration).
He was as out of sorts as the rest of the team against West Ham United with a sliced attempt at a cross in a promising position in the last minute summing up our night.
Smith will not have a forensic examination of his pace or positioning against Marc Albrighton but will have to be perhaps more effective than other games due to Albrighton’s excellent and under-rated delivery.
Riyad Mahrez vs Scott Malone
It remains to be seen whether Chris Loewe will be rested against Leicester after his tough night in London.
If Wagner decides to take him out of the firing line, it will be the job of Scott Malone to deal with the mercurial and highly-gifted Riyad Mahrez.
The key to winning this battle will be stopping him cutting in on his favoured left-foot to fire low shots across goal or crosses into the box for Vardy or Iheanacho to get on the end of.
Scott Malone will also be hoping to impose himself on the game, with his mazy, jinking runs against West Ham hopefully a sign of things to come from an attacking perspective.
Stats to look out for
- Huddersfield have lost their last seven league meetings against Leicester; their joint-longest losing run versus an opponent, along with Ipswich and Wolves.
- Victory would make Huddersfield only the fifth promoted team to reach at least 10 points after the opening five matches of a Premier League season.
- Both Huddersfield and Leicester have only made one change to their starting XI overall this season in the Premier League.
- Leicester are in danger of losing four of their opening five Premier League matches for just the second time, after 1994-95. That campaign ended in relegation.
- The Foxes have lost 15 of their 21 away league games since the start of last season (W2, D4).
- Their average possession of 36.6% is the lowest in the Premier League this season.