Can Middlesbrough turn their form around against Huddersfield Town?
This condensed season has meant that teams are almost constantly playing two games a week and that is certainly the case this week as Middlesbrough dust themselves down, put the previous loss behind them to focus on Tuesday’s game against Huddersfield Town.
There will be some players in the Middlesbrough squad that will prefer to jump into another game following their defeat to Derby County as dwelling on the sides run of poor form and the slowly increasing gap between themselves and 6th placed Bournemouth could have an adverse effect on their performances in the upcoming games.
Meanwhile the history between Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town may be a good omen for the Teessiders as they have won 55% of the teams previous clashes with the West Yorkshire side. Huddersfield, for their own part, will see this game as an opportunity to get their third win against Middlesbrough thanks to the red and white teams poor form.
Huddersfield Town's Season So Far:
The Terriers currently sit in 18th position with a 5 point gap between them and the relegation zone and so the side will be aware of the need to get points on the board to secure their place in the league before the turmoil that often occurs in the final weeks of the season. The pressure for them to get these points has only been maximised by every team, with the exception of Coventry, having a game in hand on Carlos Corberán’s side.
While the side has scored goals relatively frequently, having found the net 33 times in 29 games, it is their defence that has let them down as they have shipped a concerning 42 goals in the same amount of games. To put this simply, Huddersfield Town is currently running at a deficit of 0.4 goals per game which is why they find themselves at fighting in the bottom half of the table.
To make matters worse Josh Koroma, the sides top goalscorer is currently out with a hamstring injury which will put him on the sideline until early March greatly hindering their ability to score goals causing a widening of the deficit. On top of this the side currently has a number of other key players out injured including Christopher Schindler, Rarmani Edmonds-Green and Tommy Elphick who could have been good options in trying to fix their defensive record. While central midfielder Carel Eiting is also unavailable due to a knee injury that will prevent him from being involved in the middle of the pitch until mid-April. A real loss to the side as he has scored and created 6 goals in 19 appearances which is good goal involvement for a more defensive-minded midfielder.
These injured players have been sorely missed for the Terriers as they have been on a winless run since they beat Blackburn Rovers on 29th December 2020, a match which featured Edmonds-Green and Eiting. Since then the side has drawn 2 games and lost 5. This rut will be concerning for the West Yorkshire side’s fans as they look to be drifting into danger. To put this into perspective, Middlesbrough, who are also on a poor run of form, won their last game on the 20th January.
Over the last 5 games, they have drawn 2 and lost 3. At a quick glance over the last 5 games shows that they may be going through a upturn in form as the side has found 2 draws amongst a run of losses but this was quickly squandered for Terrier fans as they slumped to a 3-2 defeat to bottom of the table Wycombe Wanderers. It is clear that the side is in a rut and so it could prove to be the perfect opportunity for Middlesbrough to get some points on board. However the side has managed to score in four of their last 5 games while the Teessiders have only managed to score 2 goals in their last 5 games showing that if they manage to score as their recent games suggest then it may be a harder game than it first appeared to be. Alternatively, their poor defensive record could be the means by which Middlesbrough start to get their strikers firing again.
Top Goalscorer: Josh Koroma (6)
Most Assists: Isaac Mbenza (7)
Most Yellow Cards: Johnathan Hogg (7)
Most Red Cards: Harry Toffolo, Naby Sarr (1)
One to watch: Isaac Mbenza
While the defence is struggling to keep the ball out of the net, Terrier’s attack is managing to create and score goals at a similar rate to their next opponents Middlesbrough, so it comes as no surprise that it is an attacker that is the player to watch out for. Middlesbrough’s squad and coaches will be aware of the talent and threat that Mbenza brings and will be trying to quell that threat and Boro fans should pay attention to whether Boro are able to subdue what is a talented wide-man.
The majority of Mbenza’s career before arriving at Huddersfield Town consisted in him crossing the border between France and Belgium as he signed agreements to join numerous clubs from each country. This dual country career started early as he may have been born Saint-Denis but he spent the majority of his formative years in Belgium where he had stints at ROFC Stockel, FC Brussels and KV Mechelen’s youth academies. Yet his first taste of professional football came back in his birth country as he played for Valenciennes between 2013 and 2016 making 48 appearances for the A and B sides and scoring 10 goals altogether. Then he crossed the border again as the club agreed a £1.35m transfer with Belgium Pro league side Standard Liège. He played a single season at Standard making 21 appearances and finding the net 7 times. He crossed the border once again to sign for Ligue 1 side Montpellier for a fee of £1.53m and between 2017 and 2019 he made 54 appearances for La Surdouée finding the net once every 5 games. It was at this point that he broke the cycle of moving from Belgium club to French club and back again as he was moved out on loan to Huddersfield Town for a healthy fee of £2.25m which was later made permanent for £11.25m. He spent a short time in 2020 in France with Amiens SC but he returned from his loan for the start of the season and he has remained at Huddersfield for the whole season to this point.
He can play on either wing and will cut inside regardless of which side he starts on posing a threat to a defence’s half spaces as he attacks the box rather than the flanks. He favours dribbling the ball and so will make on the ball runs at the defence if Boro give him the opportunity to do so and finally he will try first time shots meaning that the player marking Mbenza will have to remain tight on his man as there will not be any time to recover if he gets in a goalscoring situation. Unlike some players, Mbenza has a clear identity as an inverted winger who looks to dribble at defences from a narrower position, take shots when they arise and set up his team mates from this vantage point.
The wide man has also been pretty effective in this role too. He has set up 7 goals and scored 4 more, resulting in him being directly involved in a goal every 2 games, This makes him the biggest danger man currently available to Carlos Corberán.
Middlesbrough could prevent the player from having an influence on the game though by tightly man marking him and pushing him out wide when he gets possession of the ball.
Manager: Carlos Corberan
It will come as no surprise that Huddersfield’s manager has been under scrutiny of late as his side continue in their poor form. Yet the club recently announced their support for the Spaniard and while this doesn’t mean he is staying indefinitely, it appears he is safe in his job for the time being.
Born in Cheste, Spain Carlos Corberán didn’t have a particularly notable career as he spent a brief period as a goalkeeper in Valencia’s second team. Yet he has held a number of coaching roles during the 37 year olds career including Assistant Coach, Fitness Coach and Technical Coach. He points to these experiences as a key component to his success in understanding the type of head coach he is. Interestingly, the Spanish manager has a number of high profile managers in his contact book for advice including Pep Guardiola, who advised him to take jobs at Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr and he has worked with previous Arsenal head coach Unai Emery too.
The manager may be under pressure to perform and the fragility of his current tenure may be something that Middlesbrough could exploit in the upcoming match.