There has been much debate about David Wagner's tactics recently with some fans openly questioning the German's choices. Thanks to a special guest editor, we take a look at Town's most used 4-2-3-1 formation and break it down. So if you want to know why Van La Parra rarely crosses or why Jonathan Hogg spends most of his time as a centre-back, read on.
The role of wingers/inside-forwards
David Wagner does not play traditional wingers. The purpose of his inside-forwards is to carry/transition the ball from the defensive 3rd to the attacking 3rd of the pitch. At that point they check their run (which drives every mad who is expecting them to take the fullback on the outside and cross it in).
The player then has options as he acts as a pivot. An outside ball can be played to an overlapping player or a through ball/ a cut ball, can be played inside for a supporting player.
If neither of these options are on, the inside-forward can try for the cross himself. The support players tend to be the fullback,Mooy and the No10.
What seems to be valued more is the inside-forwards ability to carry the ball up the pitch rather than their crossing ability because it is the support players role to provide the cross.
The fullback, Mooy or the No10. This is why Kachunga, Van La Parra and Quaner often get selected, for their direct running.
A second crucial aspect of this system is the position of the players when the inside forward loses the ball at the end of a run. In close proximity there are 4 players (the fullback, Mooy, the No10 and the inside-forward) all in position to instantly apply the high press.
To implement their Gegenpress, win the ball back and exploit the opposition being out of position (as the opposition players would have started to move to provide options when the ball was lost) and create a chance.
Goal-kick & deep possession strategy
Huddersfield give 6 options for the goalkeeper to choose from at a goal kick. The centre-backs split wide and go to the space between the 18 yard box and the sideline (left and right). Hogg comes short between the centre-bacKs as a sweeper.
Both fullbacks then push up over the halfway line ( note they are not moving high, after the ball is played, they are already there), to be close to the inside-forward. This provides a 2-on-1 situation against the opposition fullback. Options 1 and 2 are for the goalkeeper to play the ball to the left or right centre-back.
The centre-back will then play a long line pass to the inside-forward, fullback combination. Also close to the area of the pass will be Mooy and the No10. Effectively 4 players looking to pick up the second ball or activate the press, forcing the opposition to boot it long where a town player picks up this uncontrolled ball on the half way line.
Option 3 is to play the ball short to Hogg. The important thing here is this player must already know where the ball is going to be played next. To the wide centre-back, to a retreating Mooy, or a long ball to the wide fullback/inside-forward combination.
Importantly when these 3 short options are used the players keep the pitch ‘big’ with the centre-backs and the wingers all tight to the touch lines. This reduces the oppositions ability to produce pressure on the ball because they need to mark these players causing a large spread of distances and spaces between players (one answer is to sit in a deep block, keeping tight and make the challenges as the opposition come onto you - like Swansea).
If these options aren't working for Town then they have 3 long goal kick options, options 4 is a long ball straight to the forward, looking to pick up the second ball. Options 4 & 5 are long balls left or right, where the inside forwards are on the half way line looking to head inside to space.
With these 3 options instead of the pitch being ‘big’ Town condense the space into a particular area.
Why do Huddersfield 'aimlessly' pass the ball around at the back?
To succeed Huddersfield’s system needs the centre-backs to be high on the halfway line to condense space and pick up the long balls when the opposition players are pressured.
Sometimes the cycling of the ball between the centre-backs, Hogg, Mooy and the fullbacks is to work the ball around and advance them up the pitch to their ‘ready' position on the halfway line. The other reason is to try and pull opposition players slightly out of position to get some separation and create space in different parts of the pitch. Often this is away from where the ball is.
Say the ball is over with the centre-back, left-back & Hogg, this will be in order to produce space in the top central and right-wing areas, this is common in most modern football approaches.
Why don't Huddersfield pump the ball straight back into the box when a corner is cleared?
The reason is that top-level modern football is so fast and opponents can be dangerous on the counter in fact most teams are at their most vulnerable when a corner kick has not succeeded.
This is because all the players are out of position, so the defensive shape is missing and importantly it's not possible to tackle by taking the man and the ball nowadays. Slide tackles with a miss-placed foot can become almost certain red cards. Effectively the old tactic of taking ‘one for the team’ to stop a counter is a very risky choice.
Huddersfield, like many modern top level teams (Man city, Liverpool and so on), recycle the ball back to the keeper to start another attacking movement rather than pump the ball back in and get hit on the counter.
So why don't Huddersfield win every game 10-0?
The main reason is because Huddersfield are not playing a computer simulation or a fantasy football experiment. Town are playing against another set of 11 players with their own game plan, and their own ambitions of disrupting and breaking down Town’s system while at the same time implementing their own game plan.
As important as tactics and systems are, every player has to win their own individual battle on the pitch. If a player makes mistakes, makes bad choices or if the opposition player is just a much better player (Messi, Zaha etc) then there is not a lot that can be done.
As David Wagner often says, we need all the players to perform extraordinarily for Town to be successful.
One final thing, this is a reasonable level of tactical detail but it isn't to the level the players would need to fully understand and implement it.
For instance with the press, will the team press the player? If the player is not a good passer then does the press mean closing all the passing options or closing the passing lanes?
Also a team cannot press every minute of the game, so it is important to know when not to press and step back to the defensive formation. All of these modifications will have various press triggers only known by the team.
I have no idea what Town’s are! As I am too busy jumping up and down and cheering the Town on. For that level of detail, I think a person would need a good 2 hour conversation with David Wagner himself.