What we learned from the Newcastle loss

Updated: Apr 30, 2019

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"The result was very different to the performance. I was very pleased with the way we played, particularly in the first half.


"The way the team played is another step in the right direction and I am sure this team has a good future.


"Middlesbrough only had two chances in this game and we saw which team was better and which team created more chances. Sometimes in football you don't get the result you deserve."


David Wagner, Huddersfield Town 0 Middlesbrough 2 – Championship: 28th November, 2015


"We have to make sure our performances are the same level as they have been. At the moment we are playing very well, consistently, but don't have the right result. They had one chance and took it.”


David Wagner, Huddersfield Town 0 Newcastle United 1 – Premier League: 15th December, 2018



Over three years separate those two quotes from David Wagner, but in reality nothing has changed in that period. In both of those excerpts, Wagner is reviewing a loss by his team in a game that they dominated.


In both defeats, The Terriers had over 75% possession yet still finished the game with nothing. The Middlesbrough defeat was early in Wagner’s reign as manager, and the signs of his new style were promising to say the least.


Town finished that game with two strikers on the pitch, Nahki Wells and Florent Bojaj. Everyone who left the game that day knew something had to change, we had to get better strikers.


The chances were being created, our possession was fantastic but unfortunately, there was no one up top to put the ball into the back of the net. Fast forward a year and Town were challenging at the top of the Championship, yet the problem remained – Wagner’s team couldn’t finish their chances.


At the end of the campaign, Town were promoted via the play-offs after three successive draws. During the season 22 of The Terriers 25 victories were won by a margin of just one goal. Winger Elias Kachunga topped the goal scoring charts with 12 strikes in over 40 games.


Again, it was obvious what Town needed to excel in the Premier League – a competent striker. Nahki Wells was shipped out to Burnley and in came Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounie to replace him.


All seemed well after the opening game of the season, Steve Mounie scored a brace in a 3-0 victory away to Crystal Palace. Unfortunately Mounie would go on to score only 5 more league goals that season.


Even more unfortunately for Town, that game represented over 10% of the sides season total for goals scored. Only relegated Swansea City managed to score as few goals as Huddersfield Town last season.


In the summer just gone, it was not the striker’s that were replaced, instead it was the wide men as it seemed that Town lacked in creativity. In came Ramadan Sobhi, Adama Diakhaby and Isaac Mbenza to add pace, skill and creativity.


With nearly half the season gone, Town have scored just 10 goals and those three players have made 3 starts between them. On Saturday, full-backs Chris Lowe and Florent Hadergjonaj started on the wings ahead of any of our recognised wingers.


Apparently Town no longer lack a good striker or creativity out wide and in the middle. What this team lacks, according to David Wagner is a little bit of luck. According to the majority of fans, Town must sign a striker in January to solve their problems.


Neither improved luck nor an improved striker will help David Wagner’s team to score more goals. The only thing that can improve this side’s effectiveness in front of goal is a change in emphasis from David Wagner himself.



Why Town haven’t been unlucky


David Wagner and a large percentage of fans have repeatedly claimed that the side has lacked in luck this season when it comes to scoring. The big statistic used by supporters of this idea is that the side have hit the woodwork 6 times this season, the third highest total in the league.


On the face of it, that does indeed seem unlucky, but with a bit of digging it becomes clear that it’s nothing more than an anomaly. One of those occasions came from a mishit Phillip Billing cross and two of them were as a result of speculative long-range strikes from Chris Lowe and Jonathan Hogg.


Had those efforts have ended up in the back of the net, they would have indeed been lucky. Goals from distance and goals from mishit crosses don’t happen to end up in the back of the net very often, so the woodwork argument is nothing more than a misnomer.


In fact, it could be argued that Huddersfield Town have been incredibly lucky to have scored 10 goals this season. The Terriers have only taken 43 shots from inside the area in 17 games thus far this campaign.


Shots closer from goal are more likely to end up in the back of the net, so to have taken so few efforts from close range and still end up with 10 goals strikes me as rather lucky. No other team in the Premier League has taken as few shots from inside the box as Town this season.


If you would like to delve further into the statistics, according to Opta, Town have created ONLY 2 clear-cut chances this season. Only 2 chances from which, statistically we SHOULD have scored, yet we have found the net 10 times.


So Town haven’t been unlucky to score only 10 goals, they have been lucky to do so as they haven’t created the requisite amount of chances to justify that haul of goals. They have operated incredibly efficiently in front of goal.



Why David Wagner’s system is to blame


David Wagner has taken charge of 148 games as manager of Huddersfield Town. In that time, his side has scored at an average of 0.77 goals per game, and it is worth remembering that for 46 of those games, Huddersfield were one of the best sides in their division.


During Wagner’s reign as manager of Borussia Dortmund II his side’s goals per game was 0.83 from 164 matches. In over 300 games as a manger, Wagner’s goals per game ratio has never risen to 1. During that time he has had a number of strikers and creative players at his disposal, yet none of them have managed to be prolific in front of goal.


Why is that? Ultimately, it must be down to Wagner’s favoured playing style, a style which yields results, but limits his team’s scoring threat. A David Wagner Huddersfield Town side has never been fluid and creative.


Instead, they have been organised and methodical. The ball is recycled through the middle of the pitch to wide areas, where it is either pumped into the box or sent back to the middle for further recycling.


It’s a system and a style that has fared well for Huddersfield Town, transforming them from Championship relegation certainties to a Premier League side. However, it is no longer yielding results, in fact it is hindering the side.


Opposition managers have become wise to it, and that was highlighted excellently on Saturday by Rafa Benitez. The one time Champions League winner identified Town’s tactics and set his team up excellently to counter it.


Newcastle allowed Town to have possession of the ball in non-threatening areas, limited The Terriers to 0 clear-cut chances and scored on the counter. Despite being ‘dominated’ throughout the game, Newcastle had the same amount of shots on goal as Town, and a higher XG.


Town’s loss wasn’t down to poor movement from Laurent Depoitre, inaccurate crossing from Hadergjonaj or anything else that the pundits or experts may tell you. It was down to Wagner’s predictable system.


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What is the answer?


Spending big in January is not the answer to the current question – how do Town improve and avoid relegation? Harry Kane could come to Town, and the Terriers would still struggle for goals.


How could we expect Harry Kane to score bags of goals in a side that doesn’t create chances for him? We couldn’t, so we can’t even begin to expect the same of a striker that would realistically move to Town.


Instead Wagner’s tactics and system need to change. The shackles must be taken off, players must be given more independence to express themselves on the pitch and pose a different question to opposition defences.


In terms of team selection, something must change also. If Wagner is intent on seeing his side score more goals, he has to play offensive players in offensive positions. Florent Hadergjonaj and Chris Lowe are good players, but they are not wingers, and cannot be expected to perform as though they were.


Ramadan Sobhi’s direct running in his cameo appearance at the weekend was both refreshing and infuriating to see at the same time. Refreshing as it offered the team something different, infuriating as we haven’t seen it enough this season.


Regardless of whether or not you like Rajiv Van La Parra, Adam Diakhaby, Isaac Mbenza or Ramadan Sobhi, you have to admit that they are better wingers than Lowe and Hadergjonaj.


What happens next?


I suspect that David Wagner will bring his team into the clash against Southampton with minimal changes. We will see either 5 at the back or full-backs as wingers, and the game will be decided by the odd goal.


If we lose against The Saints, that could leave us with a return of 0 points from a possible 15 in a run of games that looked quite favourable almost a month ago. If we lose, relegation will become almost inevitable.


The only way to escape relegation is by changing the system, hopefully David Wagner realises this before it’s too late.

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