Opposition Profile: Huddersfield Town
A comprehensive view of Huddersfield Town's situation so you can be in the know.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all image sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
Middlesbrough has struggled to keep up with expectations this season. The fans and club alike targeted a top 6 finish in order to challenge for promotion this season. However, a mixed start to the campaign led to Neil Warnock’s dismissal at West Brom. Chris Wilder took the former Sheffield United managers vacant seat and has struggled to hit the ground running in terms of results; despite some very solid performances in his first two games, most notably against Preston where the side dominated the game for 75 minutes before ultimately collapsing to a free-header and a collapse in concentration despite valid calls for a Middlesbrough penalty only moments earlier.
Middlesbrough should go into this game with some pride about recent performances but caution over the need to get a win on the board.
Huddersfield, on the other hand, sit just beneath the playoffs and so they are in a great position to stake an assault on the top 6. Their fans will be hoping that the side can start a good run of form against Middlesbrough in order to turn this potential into a reality.
Owner: Phil Hodgkins and Dean Hoyle
Huddersfield Town had a scare a few weeks ago as a number of Phil Hodgkins businesses went into administration. There is a precedent for clubs following such businesses into liquidation, particularly if they are associated with the companies in financial trouble. Thankfully, for Huddersfield Town, this was not the case as there is enough distance between Huddersfield’s holding company and those struggling financially but the clubs issues don’t stop there. While Hodgkins is a Huddersfield supporter; clearly cares about the club and wants it to succeed, there is a real possibility that he will be forced into selling in order to stabilise other companies in his portfolio before they also go into administration. Naturally, this would prove to be a cause for concern, while there are plenty of business men looking to have a nurturing impact on a club there are equal amounts of potential owners who see owning a club as a possibility for financial gain; often at the behest of the club itself.
However, this also appears unlikely, at least in the short-term, Huddersfield Town is currently one of the best run clubs in the Championship with wages only making up for 57% of the clubs turnover in comparison to the average 121%. Additionally, minority shareholder, Dean Hoyle is also a fan of Huddersfield Town and he has, despite his reduced role in the club since Hodgkins bought 75% of Huddersfield from him, frequently put his money where his mouth is. He helped to lead them through the uncertainties of Covid and extend the period of differed payments from Hodgkin in order to maintain the clubs stable financial position.
The clubs ownership may be stable despite the chaos occurring away from John Smith’s stadium but it does call into question how they will behave in the January transfer window. The terriers are currently just outside the playoffs but they are within touching distance of the playoff spots as things stand and investment during the mid-season window could be key to pushing on and challenging for promotion. However, with the current financial issues, Hodgkins will need to decide whether the club gambles or whether they remain conservative to maintain their current financial stability.
Manager: Carlos Corberan
Carlos Corberan shares a similarity with Boro’s mid-week rival manager Frankie McAvoy in that he has not entered football the traditional way. Corberan managed to get himself a place in Valencia’s B team but failed to turn this position into an established footballing career instead moving into coaching at the young age of 23. Due to this head start in coaching, Corberan has managed to complete his grace-period of learning from other managers by the young age of 38.
Corberan has spent a large period of his coaching career with notable Spanish side Villareal giving the manager an esteemed education and insight into the top echelons of Spanish football which will have been key to the coaches success moving forward. He joined Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United too, both highlighting his impressive talents as a coach and furthering the knowledge that he would have gained from his coaching career to date.
He arrived in Huddersfield on 23rd July 2020. Across his first 69 fixtures, Coberan has averaged 1.16 points per game, a solid return considering the clubs precarious position the club has found itself in recent seasons due to the process of stabilising the books. His current season in charge, is his most impressive to date averaging 1.47 points per game, putting the side within reach of the playoffs. This success is largely due to the head coaches tactical abilities with him finding a solution to the prominent issues that have held Huddersfield back in recent seasons.
Firstly, Corberan has given Huddersfield fluidity and flexibility. The Spanish coach separates football into two sections: defending and attacking. In each of these sections, Corberan has taught his side to play in three different formations allowing him to call upon any of theses systems depending on which one suits the upcoming opposition more. Furthermore, while he predominantly favours the stability of a back three, he has also engaged them in a 4-3-3 in attack and a 4-4-1-1 in defence allowing him to turn to a different defensive structure should a game call upon it.
While Corberan states that he isn’t inspired by any particular coach, he did point towards Tuchel’s current system at Chelsea as his theoretical answer to some of the sides issues and, coincidentally, the two sides do share a likeness in personnel, albeit at two notable differences in quality. This means that Boro fans should expect to face a Huddersfield Town side that fits a similar model to Chelsea’s current system. This could prove to be an awkward situation for Middlesbrough as their attempt to press may result in openings for the oppositions attackers.
One To Watch: Tom Lees
Huddersfield’s success this season has been built from a solid base. Corberan’s decision to prioritise defensive security has been key as it has provided the foundation for the rest of the team to be built on and summer signing Tom Lees has been integral towards this aim.
The 30 year old was a free transfer from relegated Sheffield Wednesday but he has managed to kick on since his arrival in Huddersfield. He offers a stable, physical but intelligent presence at the heart of the defence and he is tactically aware enough to take a co-ordinating role when the side adjusts formation.
Tom Lees has been involved in 15 of the clubs 19 fixtures to date often taking up the central position in a back three which poses as a reference point for the wide centre backs on each side and establishes the defensive line. He is just as comfortable in a back four though and so Middlesbrough should consider him a serious challenge regardless of the system that Corberan deploys.
Hot Prospect: Levi Colwill
If it had not been stressed enough already, Huddersfield Town’s hot prospect, Levi Colwill, is also a defender. The 19 year old has been playing as a wide-centre back for the Terriers and he has looked accomplished beyond his years in the role.
A loanee from Chelsea, if those associations weren’t already apparent, Levi Colwill is a ball playing centre back. His impressive range of passing has allowed him to instigate attacks from outside his own box or step out of the back three to offer a passing option to the midfield. He will arrive late in the opposition half at times too opening up space for him to pick out a dangerous pass. It is through these abilities that Colwill has managed to provide an assist to the side from his centre back role.
Defensively, Colwill is a good reader of the game. He is measured when using his standing tackle, his favoured mode of retrieving the ball, to ensure that he doesn’t give away any fouls or leave himself flat-footed and vulnerable to runs in behind the defensive line. He marries these abilities with his impressive pace and brilliant acceleration to ensure that he is a real obstacle for any attacker that tries to get down the flank or through the mid-space.
However, he does have one limiting weakness, his aerial ability. While he has a good stature and can hold himself in a head-to-head aerial battle he is by no means a favourite in these situations meaning that he may be exposed to such attempts if he was placed in a centre back pairing. In Colwill’s instance, he is best either playing as a wide centre back, a fullback or a wingback where his best assets come to the fore and make it increasingly difficult for the opposition.
Middlesbrough will need to be intelligent if they plan to break through the defensive line on his side of the pitch.
Huddersfield’s defensive solidity will mean that it will be a tight-fought contest. However, despite Middlesbrough failing to get their first three points under Wilder, there has been a lot of positive signs and Huddersfield could be the game where these come together for three points on the board.