Huddersfield won the English Championship playoff final at the Wembley so they got promoted to the top flight after 45 years. Their secret is a well-elaborated strategy and the spirit based on their manager David Wagner’s drive. The German led them to the playoff final, and they got their well-deserved promotion with penalties.
In this article I will analyse their match against Reading, how did they achieved this outstanding result, and I would like to discuss about their strategy more extensively.
The tactical approach
We can describe Wagner’s style with high pressing and energetic style with enthusiasm next to the touchline to support the team’s passion. Easy to connect his style with Jurgen Klopp as they were colleagues in Dortmund for 4 years between 2011 and 2015.
Huddersfield often operates with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which alters into a 2-4-3-1 in attack, and a 4-4-1-1 in defense. As we said before, the main characteristics are similar to Klopp’s philosophy at Liverpool, so the main cornerstone is the counter-pressing, and how can they implement it to the match situations. I don’t want to go deep into this pressing strategy as Adin Osmanbasic explained it well in his super article here, so I will only talk about it later when we analyse the match. The 4-2-3-1 is a perfect formation to utilize for pressing, the fullbacks can push higher up the pitch, providing width and support on the wings, whilst the inside forwards can operate in narrower spaces, closer to the goal and the front four can choke the opponent’s build up. The transition into 2-4-3-1 means that their “center of gravity” is much closer to the opponent, and they have to cover less space, and with nearly seven players making support moves, it balances the team and helps circulating the ball, and recycling when the possession is lost.
The team’s defense is about to get the ball back as quick as possible through relentless pressing. They try to break the opponent’s build-up with closing spaces and reducing the available passing options, forcing 3v4 or 2v3 situations especially on the wings. This leads to a lot of long balls from the defense and duels for the second balls.
If I want to summarize David Wagner’s approach at Huddersfield these are the main principles:
- Intense pressing in high areas on the pitch
- Looking for situational numerical advantages (3v4; 2v3)
- Front four with fluidity and license to vary positions
- Quick transitions, in a fast and direct manner
- Very intelligent players
- Very-very compact shape
Let’s see how these principles can be identified in the playoff final when they secured the promotion.
The video shows their pressing patterns, and triggers for it – second balls, weak first touch, or aimless pass forward. They try to create situations when they can press the opponent easily – 3v1 or 3v2.
As we said earlier Wagner’s philosophy requires intelligent players. We can see that this is necessary to execute these movements, and maintain the compactness and the overall tactical understanding during the transitions.
We can notice the trend, ‘rondos in match situations’ in world football as well as in their games. While the team forms these kind of situations, they secured the space, lowered the risk of ball dispossession, and able to control the ball circulation. The pace of their play allows them to form these ‘rondos’, so they can rely on it as the opponents hardly can cope with that.
We discussed about the overall tactical approach of Huddersfield Town, and how could we experience it in the final and most important match for them.
David Wagner’s team achieved promotion to the Premier League due to their unprecedented strategy, and none of the Championship teams was able to resist the new ideas. We can expect some good moments and a prospective place in the top flight, and a great managerial career from Wagner.