Match 64
Game Details
Match 63
Game Details

Huddersfield in the Premier League: Mooy the star for Wagner's men

Huddersfield Town are the Premier League's newest side, achieving promotion via the playoff final where they beat Reading 4-3 on penalties after a turgid game ended 0-0. They have been the surprise, romantic story of the Championship season, tipped by some to be relegated but under David Wagner, they are back in the top flight for the first time since 1972.

So what will they be like in the Premier League next season?

Who's the manager?

Initially Wagner was known simply as being Jurgen Klopp's friend and former colleague, but gradually since arriving at Huddersfield in November 2015 he has established his own identity as one of the brightest managers in the English game.

Wagner was born and raised in Germany, but won eight caps for the USA, qualifying thanks to his American serviceman father, and enjoyed a peripatetic career as a forward in the German Bundesliga. He spent four years as Borussia Dortmund's assistant manager, before arriving in England 18 months ago. And after steering Huddersfield clear of Championship relegation last season, has now brought them to the Premier League. "He's a genius," said goalkeeper Danny Ward, in the afterglow of their playoff final win over Reading.

Who's their star man?

One of the striking things about Huddersfield is that they're a collective unit, rather than a team of star individuals, but their best player in this promotion season has been Aaron Mooy.

An Australian midfielder on loan from Manchester City, Mooy has been the man who keeps things ticking over for Huddersfield in one of the deeper-lying midfield roles. Wagner broadly favours a 4-2-3-1 system, and Mooy has been one of the two sitting midfielders, performing an important calming role in the otherwise rapid and all-action side.

Who are their other big players?

This is a side with few big names, and one wonders how many of the current side will start in the Premier League next season. But their other key performers this season have included Jonathan Hogg, a midfield grafter who started his career at Aston Villa; Elias Kachunga, a German forward currently on loan from Ingolstadt; another loanee in the shape of Liverpool goalkeeper Danny Ward; and club stalwart right-back Tommy Smith.

How do they play?

The buzzword when discussing how Huddersfield play this season has been gegenpressing, but that's reductive for a few reasons. Firstly, teams have been gegenpressing for some time, only it used to be called "closing down" before Klopp turned up. Also that term ties him too closely to his old boss.

The pair obviously have similarities, but Wagner is a slightly less dogmatic, more flexible manager than Klopp: for a start, he played in more of a counter-attacking fashion against Reading in the playoff final, happy for a team who prefers slow build-up to advance and then be hit on the break. Still, the principles of high levels of fitness and intense pressing are there: Smith described working with Wagner as "full on" earlier in the season, with considerable understatement.

Where will they need to strengthen?

Almost everywhere. The first and most interesting task will be seeing which loan players they can keep for the Premier League season ahead. Ward, Kachunga, Mooy and Chelsea's Izzy Brown have been among their key performers, but have they been too good to remain at the John Smith's Stadium?

New additions will need to be made in all the usual places: the defence was among the better ones in the Championship but, given the speed and ferocity with which mistakes are punished in the top flight, a beefing up of their back line will perhaps be the most important task.

They also need plenty of help up front: remarkably Huddersfield finished the season with a negative goal difference and scored fewer goals than Nottingham Forest, who only avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth.

Kachunga was their top-scorer but only managed 12 league goals, and Wagner's proclivity for rotation means they will require significant additions throughout the squad, if they are to survive. They are not big spenders (their transfer record is, remarkably, the £1.8 million paid for defender Christopher Schindler last summer), but Wagner was shrewd enough to build a promotion squad on a small budget, so there's every chance he could do the same in the top flight.

How will they cope in the Premier League?

The bad news is that the last three playoff final winners have all been relegated straight away. The good news is that Wagner's reign so far has been based on him being able to get the best from an unheralded collection of players. He seems to be an expert at fostering a good team spirit, and although Huddersfield will start the season as comfortable favourites for the drop, we have seen this season that there's little to choose between most of the teams in the bottom half of the table.

A shrewd transfer window or two along with Wagner's team-building could see them survive.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.


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