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Data Analysis: Three signings for Huddersfield if they get promoted

After beating Cardiff on Wednesday, Huddersfield Town are 14 games unbeaten in the Championship. Carlos Corberán has transformed Huddersfield from a team languishing near the bottom of the table to play-off contenders in only two seasons. If Huddersfield are to get promoted, they will need to improve upon their squad to make the transition from Championship to Premier League football successfully.

In this data analysis, we will use data and statistics to identify three possible signings for Huddersfield should they get promoted.

How do Huddersfield play?

Corberán does not care about possession but instead likes his team to play in transitions like his former boss, Marcelo Bielsa. Playing a high defensive line, Corberán is willing to take risks of his team conceding goals for the chance that the Huddersfield forwards will get the ball back from the opposition.

As we can see, six Huddersfield players are trying to press the ball carrier for Cardiff, leaving only one option for Marlon Pack to play a long ball going forward to relieve the pressure. Usually, that sort of pass will be wayward, but Pack had a couple of seconds on the ball to pick out a teammate because of Huddersfield’s un-organised press.

Because of the commitment from the midfielders, Marlon Pack was able to pick out Mark Harris, who holds up the play well. This now means that there is a five vs four situations between the Cardiff forwards and Huddersfield defenders. If Cardiff were to commit their men forward quickly and Harris could bring the ball down quickly, this could have been an excellent chance for The Bluebirds to score.

Another aspect that comes hand-in-hand with a high defensive line is pressing high up the pitch. If your back-line is starting high up the pitch, the opposition has less of the field to pass the ball in. If your opponents have less space, you can close them down quicker, as you have to run less distance. Therefore, the further up the pitch your back line is, the better the press will be.

Huddersfield press as a team once the Middlesbrough fullback has the ball. Ward goes towards the central defender to block off that option and Lewis O’Brien sprints towards Johnny Howson, marked in the white box. Howson, because of his great technical ability, is able to receive the ball on his back foot and roll O’Brien.

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Because of Howson’s great first touch, Huddersfield’s press falls apart. This is because Howson is allowed so much time on the ball.

Howson’s drive up the pitch and slips in a through ball to Isaiah Jones. That through-ball is only available because of Huddersfield’s intense pressing and high-line that leaves them defensively vulnerable.

Jones can then exploit his pace to get past his marker and get the ball into the box. Duncan Watmore is too fast for the central defenders and gets to the cross comfortably in Huddersfield’s six-yard-box. This eventually leads to a goal for Middlesbrough, which would be crucial in Huddersfield’s 2-1 defeat.

So, what have we learnt? Huddersfield plays an intense pressing game with a high back-line to help squeeze the opposition. This has led to giving away chances against Championship standard teams, and so they will need to improve their squad in defensive and midfield areas if they are going to play in the Premier League next season. However, it would be misleading to present Huddersfield as “Leeds lite.”

Huddersfield only press when they feel they can do successfully, which is an excellent attribute for any team to have. This season, they have the second-lowest passes per defensive action (12.7) in the Championship and have the fifth-lowest recoveries in the attacking third (322 and 9 per 90). It would be too simplistic to suggest that Huddersfield are a team that sits back and soak-up pressure all the time because of these statistics. Instead, Huddersfield is a competent team that knows when to trigger the press.

So, we know how Huddersfield play without the ball, but what about in possession?

Corberán likes to play direct football from counter-attacks. The Terriers complete 2.47 counterattacks per 90, ranking them fifth throughout the Championship this season.

As we can see, Hull is piling on the pressure on Huddersfield. Seven Hull players are pressing the Huddersfield backline. Because of this press, Huddersfield attempted to find the long ball with the open man calling for the ball.

Danny Ward drops deep to offer himself as an option for the long ball forward. Ward uses his great strength to keep the ball in a difficult scenario.

Danny Ward spots the run from left-back Harry Toffolo, who then runs with the orange line.

Harry Toffolo has four options to pass the ball. The dark green is where the ball goes, but if Toffolo had seen the pass in pink, Huddersfield could have easily had a much better chance as it looks like a possible two vs one scenario. Eventually, Huddersfield shoots, and almost scores from a deflected shot from outside the box, and it troubles the Hull goalkeeper.

If you would like to read more into how Huddersfield play under Corberán, click this link 

What do Huddersfield need?

Danny Ward has been a great asset to Huddersfield this season. Contributing to 13 goals in the Championship this season, Ward still can be a good striker for the Championship. However, having scored only one goal in the last five games, Huddersfield may need to purchase a new striker, especially considering the 31-year-old is their only striker who seems to have a positive future under Corberán. Jordan Rhodes and Frazier Campbell are the wrong age profile for a team that wants to be pressing off the ball. Josh Koroma’s contract runs out in the summer of 2022, and Ward’s contract runs out in 2023.

For a team that plays a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation, on paper, will require at least one solid player in every position. Left-winger seems to be the one weakness for The Terriers, either utilising Duane Holmes, a right midfielder by nature, or Josh Koroma, who doesn’t seem to be of Premier League quality, having only contributed to five goals from over 1600 minutes of league football this season.

If Huddersfield continues playing in the style they are doing, they will need central midfielders who can accurately pass the ball up the pitch directly to accompany their style of play and someone who can win the ball back.

John Swift – Reading

There is one clear answer for most Premier League aspiring teams regarding a central midfield vacancy. John Swift. Having scored more than any other midfielder in the Championship this season, 11, and assisting more times than any other midfielder, 13, Swift is the easy option. However, Swift has much more to his game than just goals and assists.

Swift can also press in a similar way as to what Corberán wants from his players. He does not have insane pressing numbers, not being in the top for Championship midfielders for both recoveries in the opponent’s half or recoveries in general, but Swift is smart with his pressing.

Swift sees the Middlesbrough defender had a bad first touch so he decides to press.

Swift wins the ball back high up the pitch; however, he does not have an option to pass the ball too, whilst keeping the counterattack alive. He could give the player marked in pink; however, the defender would likely get the ball back and stifle the counterattack. Eventually, Swift takes a shot from outside the box that is on target.

Even though the outcome of his intelligent pressing wasn’t optimal, Swift managed to win the ball back and attack quickly, which would fit into Corberán’s philosophy.

He sees that his teammates are in position to press the opposition, so Swift decides to trigger the press. Once the player marked in light blue passes the ball, Swift starts sprinting towards the receiver of the ball.

Swift’s pressing and his teammates pressing (denoted in the red circles) means that the player on the ball has to lump the ball forward. Reading then go on to regain possession and start their attack.

These examples show that Swift presses with quality, not quantity, precisely what Coreberán wants.

Swift has accumulated more xA (expected assists) than Queens Park Rangers’ favourite Chris Willock (5.19 vs 4.82). Expected assists are essential for central midfielders as it shows us that Swift is producing great chances for his teammates, which is important for a midfielder. Swift may have accumulated his high xA from his quite impressive through ball numbers. Having attempted 46 through balls in the Championship this season, four from the top spot, Swift has completed 16, again four from the top spot. Having someone willing to play through balls at Huddersfield would be fantastic as Corberán wants to play football through the transition, and if he had a midfielder capable of producing quality through balls, it would help with attacking during the transition.

What may make Corberán more interested in the English midfielder is his superb long-range passing. Having completed 86 long balls, 30 more than Huddersfield’s highest Lewis O’Brien, Swift can effectively switch the play and find his teammates. This would fit Corberán’s system well as he wants to play on the counter, and having someone who can accurately pass the ball to his teammates in space, across large distances, would help increase the speed, and therefore effectiveness, of the attacking transition.

Swift sees that his teammate struggled to keep the ball (as shown by the purple line). He also sees his other teammate (marked in the light blue) is offering a forward run, so it would not make sense for Swift to run forward as he would be moving into the same space as his teammate.

Swift received the ball in an awkward position on the pitch where he was aggressively pressed. Players with a smaller passing range may pass the ball to the player marked in red. This is because they would not feel as comfortable on the ball, so they would try to get the ball away from the immediate danger (i.e. the presser). If that were to happen, it would lead to the player circled in red having a problematic pass to control due to the two opposition players near him.

Swift manages to pass the ball to the player across the pitch, who has more time and space to play around Middlesbrough’s press. Because of the amount of Middlesbrough players in Reading’s half, Reading has a chance to counterattack. These examples of passing range will spike the interest of Corberán as he will want someone able to switch the play, as it would allow Huddersfield’s wingers to attack space left by the on-rushing opposition midfielders.

Swift is also great with the ball at his feet, successfully dribbling 104 times this season from 133 attempts. Dribbling at a 78% success rate is a great tool to have in any midfielders arsenal.

With Swift’s contract expiring this summer, he could be a great option for Corberán to have.

Swift manages to pass the ball to the player across the pitch, who has more time and space to play around Middlesbrough’s press. Because of the amount of Middlesbrough players in Reading’s half, Reading has a chance to counterattack. These examples of passing range will spike the interest of Corberán as he will want someone able to switch the play, as it would allow Huddersfield’s wingers to attack space left by the on-rushing opposition midfielders.

Elijah Adebayo – Luton Town

Adebayo could easily slot into Corberán’s striker role, as he has been doing the “target-man” aspects during this season.

As we can see, Adebayo is easily able to shrug off his marker to help create space for himself.

 

 

Adebayo is always looking at the ball, shown via the purple line. This is an integral aspect to winning aerial duels as knowing where the ball is going to bounce will allow for Adebayo to react quicker than his marker. 

Adebayo does well to control the ball from a difficult situation. However, his teammates (highlighted in light blue) are all static, as they are not expecting him to win the ball. If Adebayo were playing at Huddersfield, his teammates would gamble on him bringing the ball down as it would create a fantastic counterattacking opportunity.

Adebayo gets unlucky as the only option for a forward pass is Cameron Jerome, but Adebayo is in the middle of a dribble. This meant that Adebayo could not pass the ball into Jerome before running offside. Adebayo is forced to pass the ball sideways, and the counterattack breaks down.

This example is not an anomaly. Adebayo has competed in the third most aerial duels out of any Championship striker with 290. That is 140 more than Danny Mills. Also, Adebayo has won 71 more aerial duels than Ward.

These numbers may make you believe that Ward is the better target man than Adebayo. However, Adebayo will always be marked by the opposition’s best central defender at heading and jumping because they know of his threat, whereas Ward is not as towering, so defenders won’t similarly mark him.

But, to say Adebayo is just a “target-man” would severely underrate other aspects of his game.

Adebayo can also press at a high level. This season, Danny Ward has made 52 recoveries in the Championship, but Adebayo has made 61 in the same time frame. Adebayo is also better at creating chances than Ward, with the Luton striker having 2.77 xA, which is almost triple that of Ward, who has just 1 xA this season.

Adebayo’s contract, like Swift’s, runs out this summer, making him available for free. Corberán may be interested in the 24-year-old striker who could add even more energy and verticality to his side.

Tom Lawrence – Derby County

We all know about the situation facing Derby County. With Derby on the brink of folding, selling assets for much less than market value, they are massively over-performing to be near safety this season. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United legend, has dragged The Rams to 22nd place, despite being deducted 21 points this season. But, even if Derby survives relegation this season, they will struggle to keep their key players for the 2022/23 season.

One of those key players is Tom Lawrence. The 28-year-old left-winger has been outstanding this season. Having scored nine goals and assisting five, Lawrence has been a key for Derby’s attack.

Lawrence would fit very well in Corberán’s side.

First, Lawrence has an outstanding defensive work rate. He has the most recoveries out of any forward this season, 110, and the most recoveries in the opposition, 67. As mentioned previously, Corberán does not want his forwards to press like headless chickens. However, he still would appreciate the work rate. Plus, if Lawrence started to press even smarter than he already is, he could spend more of his energy on the ball, leading to better outcomes when going forward.

One example of Lawrence’s intelligent pressing was against Bournemouth. Lawrence did not actually recover the ball himself, but he and his teammates made the job easier for the eventual ball-winner.

Lawrence, marked in the green circle, recognised that the press has been triggered by his teammates, because of Gavin Kilkenny’s poor touch. His teammates, marked by the blue line, stop any chance of Kilkenny passing the ball to two of the three central defenders.

Lawrence recognises that Jefferson Lerma is behind him, so he cuts the passing lane into the Colombian midfielder. The two other Derby players, marked with the blue circles, close down the pass receiver as well as the only short option available to the player on the ball. Because Lawrence blocked the easy pass into Lerma, Derby win the ball back as Bournemouth have to play a lofted pass to Lerma, which he could not control.

Lawrence has more expected goal contributions (11.10) than any Huddersfield forward (Danny Ward with 10.32). This would make Lawrence a great addition to Huddersfield’s attacking options.

Conclusion

Carlos Corberán has definitely took influences from his former boss Marcelo Bielsa. When on the ball, Huddersfield play quick, direct football.

Off the ball is when Corberán differs from the Leeds United manager. Corberán wants his team to press aggressively, but only when it makes sense. Whereas Leeds United usually like to press the ball all the time frantically.

If Huddersfield gets promoted into the Premier League next season, they will need to strengthen their squad.

John Swift would add an excellent attacking option from the middle of the park, and he can press intelligently, score and assist goals. Swift would make a fantastic option with his superb passing range, and with his contract expiring this summer, he would be cheap.

Elijah Adebayo could be an upgrade on Danny Ward. Adebayo presses more, wins more aerial duels (although he could increase his aerial win percentage) and scores more goals.

Finally, Tom Lawrence would significantly improve upon Rolando Aarons or Josh Koroma. This season, Lawrence has more expected goal involvements than any Huddersfield player, and he presses more than any forward in the Championship. Many clubs will keep an eye out for the Wrexham born winger as his contract runs out this summer, but it would be incredible for The Terriers if they could lure him in.