Championship Preview: Wagner can be a success at Huddersfield


David Wagner –

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekend’s games in the Championship. After unsuccessful talks with Fulham, Reading manager Steve Clarke may get a mixed reception back at the Madjeski, as the Royals take on a Bolton side struggling for points and goals. There is a Yorkshire derby at Hillsborough, as David Wagner takes charge of Huddersfield for the first time against Sheffield Wednesday, who lost 3-1 at Charlton last time out.

Reading v Bolton

There has been no shortage of controversy at the Madjeski stadium this week. Manager Steve Clarke looked set to join Fulham, only for talks to break down and now, against the odds, he will take charge against Bolton on Saturday.

With Reading having dropped to 8th after a disappointing run of results, perhaps caused by injuries to key players. Stephen Quinn and Aaron Tshibola have offered strength and tenacity in the middle of the park and both of them will be out at least until January, hindering the Berkshire boys’ play-off bash.

Based on the more simplistic statistical logic, the Royals should be higher in the league, because they average the most shots on target in the Championship and have conceded the fewest number of shots. The team’s ability to shoot from range has been a highlight of their season so far, yet the fact that they have had the eight fewest shots in the box would suggest they are struggling to create clear cut chances.

In the aforementioned five games, Reading have only had a total of twelve shots from inside the opposition area, which is a poor return. This may be because more teams are wary of their counter-attacking threat and are playing them with a cautious mind-set. Their 5-1 win over Ipswich in front of the TV cameras in September was a great night for the club, yet in some ways that match, along with the subsequent run of wins that followed it, has made other teams hyper-aware of what they can do on the break. Therefore, it is not too surprising that they have played very disciplined teams in recent weeks and we can expect Bolton to fall into the same category.

The Lancashire visitors lost in this fixture in January 2014. We can probably bet against the Trotters getting beaten in the same embarrassing fashion, because defensively, they are doing reasonably ok. Prince, a player who likes to play the ball out of defence, has done well when operating in his favoured centre-back position and is a reason why Bolton have conceded fewer goals than any team in the bottom six.

There are no prizes for guessing, therefore, where Neil Lennon’s primary concerns lie. His side have scored just one goal in their last six games and with strikers Shola Ameobi, Emile Heskey and Gary Madine having scored just 3 goals between them, it is not difficult to see why the team are struggling.

Ameobi and Heskey were not particularly good goalscorers when they were playing in their prime, ten years ago, so it is unsurprising to see that they are not firing now. Madine, on the other hand, found form for Sheffield Wednesday in League One a few years ago but off-field issues have disrupted his career and the Carlisle United trainee has yet to prove himself in the Championship. Bolton need to sign a striker in January, but goalscorers do not come cheaply and given the club’s debt, they are not in a great position to sign one, at least not on a permanent deal. We can expect that the visitors will sit deep and a goalless draw seems a plausible outcome.

Sheff Wed v Huddersfield

Sheffield Wednesday lost 3-1 at Charlton last time out. Head coach Carlos Carvalhal said that this result was down to a lack of energy from the players but the Portuguese boss has to take some responsibility himself.

A couple of months ago, Carvalhal was guilty of trying to shoehorn in too many attack-minded players who want to play a similar role and that was a factor behind Wednesday’s poor early-season form. The Charlton game suggests that he has not learnt his lessons. He started four attack-minded midfielders behind Gary Hooper, who is not known for his ability to hold the ball up. Sam Hutchinson started only defensive-minded midfielder and he was the one man who was sacrificed when the team were 2-0 down.

The whole idea that you can take off your only holding player when chasing a game and expect to deal with opposition attacks is incredibly naïve. Not for the first time, Wednesday conceded a goal from a corner at the Valley and the side showed a concerning lack of aggression and diligence for the other two goals, they simply let Charlton stride forward. At the moment, it is fashionable to back Wednesday based on what they can do with the ball. However, this blog would argue that while Carlos Carvalhal is in charge of that team, they will not show the defensive qualities required to challenge for the top six.

The change Wednesday made replacing Stuart Gray with Carvalhal was of a similar nature to Huddersfield’s decision to sack Chris Powell and bring in David Wagner this month. The club got rid of a defensive-minded Englishman who was doing a solid job, in search of a more exciting foreign manager who promotes attacking football.

And yet, there is also a key difference between Carvalhal’s approach and that of Wagner. While the former is guilty of neglecting the way he sets his team up without the ball, the latter advocates ‘gegenpressing’. This is a tactic widely associated with Wagner’s former Dortmund colleague, Jurgen Klopp, and involves a team closing down the opposition immediately after losing possession. This approach could benefit Huddersfield, who at times drop too deep in games and are guilty of inviting pressure onto themselves.

With energetic players such as Nahki Wells, James Vaughan, Harry Bunn and Sean Scannell being among the West Yorkshiremen’s attacking players, the potential for high pressing is there. Although, the lack of pace in defence may need to be addressed at some stage.

Appointing David Wagner is a risk for Huddersfield Town and one must acknowledge that Chris Powell was able to stabilize Huddersfield in the Championship on a much small budget than the clubs around him. However, Powell was not liked by everyone at the club and, on a short-term basis at least, there is potential for the team to produce an upturn in performances. A new manager’s first game in charge is successful more often than not and this blog will back Wagner to get off to a winning start in this Yorkshire derby.