Huddersfield take on Reading in the Championship Playoffs Final on Monday, with the winner gaining promotion to the Premier League.
Huddersfield have blossomed into a wonderful prospect under manager David Wagner, who has employed a variant of the gegenpressing at the club. The arrival of Borussia Dortmund’s number two has changed the club’s fortunes in a drastic fashion, with the club going from finishing 19th last season to being one match away from promotion.
Reading on the other hand, have had a similar turnaround, albeit after the arrival of Dutch legend Jaap Stam, who has brought along the properties of Dutch football and engrained it into his present squad. The Royals finished 17th last season and are now set to take the field on Monday with a spot in the Premier League on the line.
The game is of high importance for both the teams with huge financial inflow waiting for the side who triumphs on Monday, along with the ability to compete in the highest tier of English football.
We take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Philip Billing and Jon Gorenc Stankovic are both out of the game with knee injuries. On-loan midfielder Kasey Palmer took part in the training sessionP but there are still doubts over his match fitness – a player whose unavailability could be a huge blow to Wagner’s plans.
Elias Kachunga is supposed to be fit and ready for the tie despite coming off early in the second leg of the Championship Playoff semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday.
While Wagner does set his side up with the tactic of gegenpressing like Jurgen Klopp, under whom he actually worked at Borussia Dortmund, he has also shown that he has the capability of mixing it up at times, ordering his team to play on the counter rather than press and play possession football.
Probable Lineup ( 4-2-3-1 ): Ward; Smith, Schindler, Hefele, Lowe; Hogg, Mooy; Kachunga, Brown, Parra; Wells
Reading will miss captain Paul McShane’s experience on the pitch, with the player suspended for the all-important tie, while Jordan Obita remains a major doubt for the tie, having missed the second-leg of the Playoff Semi-finals along with regular training in the lead-up to Monday.
Deniss Rakels, Callum Harriott and Stephen Quinn are all set to miss the tie, with the trio out injured for the long haul.
Jaap Stam has also brought about a revolution at the Royals, incorporating the Dutch footballing philosophy within the squad – a tactic which has sometimes been criticized. However, the Manchester United legend has started tinkering with it, with the club winning the Playoff semi-finals with lesser possession on the pitch.
Probable Lineup ( 3-5-2 ): Al-Habsi; Ilori, Moore, Berg; Gunter, Evans, Swift, Williams, Blackett; Kermorgant, Grabban
1. The two sides met twice last season, with the home side emerging victorious in each game with a 1-0 scoreline.
2. If Huddersfield win the tie, they will end a 45-year-old drought of top-tier English football.
3. Rewarding Possession – Huddersfield and Reading – two of the top three teams with the most possession – are the teams left in the Playoffs. Actually, all of the teams in the top five of the said list made it to the playoffs, barring Newcastle, who achieved direct promotion.
4. This is Tommy Smith’s most productive season till date in his career, with 4 goals and 10 assists from his position at right-back.
5. Yann Kermorgant has been in splendid form this season and been on fire, especially, in the last 5 games, with 5 goals to show for his efforts.
Player To Watch
While many would point towards the likes of Nakhi Wells, Kachunga or Kermorgant as the players to watch, we believe it is the on-loan Manchester City midfielder Aaron Mooy who is the pick of the bunch for Monday.
The player has been impressive in the midfield for Huddersfield and will be influential again on Monday, if Wagner’s men are to achieve promotion. The midfielder might not have gotten a look into the City squad yet but he could earn a move to a place with better opportunities in the summer.
And a positive performance in such a high octane tie will surely help his cause.
Huddersfield 3 – 2 Reading
On paper, Reading might be tipped to be the favourites going into the match. However, the Royals have a tendency of succumbing against the top sides, something which could return to haunt them on Monday. Also, the high pressing system of Huddersfield could prove to be strenous to deal with for Stam and his men.
Kermorgant and Kachunga are expected to get their respective names on the scoresheet. However, Huddersfield are likely to edge the Royals in an intense and close encounter – a result which would see them return to the top-flight after a wait of 45 years.