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Tactical Analysis: How Huddersfield nearly fell short against Derby

Following their 2-0 victory over Derby County last week, Huddersfield sit in 5th place in the Championship and firmly look set to secure a place in the playoffs. It’s been a successful season for the Terriers so far and whilst they did end up taking the three points off the Rams, It wasn’t as straight forward as it could’ve been.

How Stearman’s red card impacted the game

The big turning point happened early on in the game, as former Huddersfield man, Richard Stearman, saw red just three minutes in, reducing Derby to ten men. This changed how the game was going to flow and play out almost instantly, as both teams had to adjust their playstyle. Despite Stearman playing centre half, Huddersfield decided to play with a lot of width. Duane Holmes and Sorba Thomas were the ones who were initiating most attacks, but with minimal effect. Countless times, there were diagonal balls played across the field, that had both wingers scrambling to take control. Even in the shorter passages of play, it would normally entail a quick one-two between the centre midfielders, Hogg and O’Brien, to then give the wingers an opportunity to cross

Hesitation also seemed to plague the first half, with Holmes and Thomas looking extremely indecisive in the final third, failing to effectively set up Danny Ward or Daniel Sinani, who would normally arrive later on into the box. The two strikers also failed to create many clear cut chances, despite the man advantage.

Huddersfield’s average positions vs Derby (Source: Sofascore)

How Derby had to set up after going a man down

With Stearman’s ejection from the game, Wayne Rooney and his team were going to have a job on their hands. Coming out as a 4-4-2 was their game plan, but had to be adjusted. Watching the game, Derby moved Lee Buchanan into the now vacant centre back slot, to allow Festy Ebosele to move into left back. Nathan Byrne and Ebosele both impressed me with their tenacity and drive to keep Huddersfield out, but were always going to come unstuck with the sheer volume of attacks down the flanks.

Rooney set his team up to sit deep and hope to grind out a point, evidenced by the 28% possession and one shot in the entire game for Derby. Finally, despite the wide angle of attack that Huddersfield tried to employ, Derby were very central across the whole game, with only Byrne and Ebosele really showing width. Left winger, Louie Sibley seemed to play a more central role, similar to that of Tom Lawrence, who started in the 10.

Derby set up very narrow against Huddersfield looking at their average positions (Source: Sofascore)

Huddersfield’s short coming’s going forward

Whilst the game may have seemed straight forward for Huddersfield to any outsiders looking in, they struggled dearly to get their goals. Holmes’ opener came late in the second half in the 75th minute, with Jordan Rhodes’ goal coming just four minutes after. Huddersfield ended up having 16 shots in the game, but as previously mentioned, they were hesitant and indecisive in the final third, so those numbers are definitely deceiving.

The tempo Huddersfield had at the latter stages of play allowed Derby to crowd the box and cut off the passing lanes to eventually clear. Whilst this had to be done on countless occasions, due to Derby’s poor ball retention and 63% pass accuracy, Huddersfield were their own downfall going forward due to their tempo. The 23 clearances for Derby shows they took note of this. Pumping the ball long up the pitch not only had potential to cause problems for Huddersfield’s defence, but also meant they had start again with their attack, compared to if Derby tried to play out from the back, risking an interception from a Terriers forward.

How Huddersfield should have attacked the game

Whilst you can’t do anything about Ryan Allsop saving shots, I think a different approach would’ve done Huddersfield a world of good. Being more direct and quick on the ball is what they needed to do, in my opinion, to really break down Derby. Playing wide to ultimately try and cut the ball back or cross it to either Ward or Sinani clearly wasn’t working, so starting their attacks more centrally to trying to drag their midfielders out and bring the Derby defence forward should’ve been the route to take.

Playing through the middle would’ve allowed Lewis O’Brien to get more involved, who spent a lot of time forcing balls down the wings, instead of dictating attacks with Sinani and Ward. O’Brien did still put on an impressive passing display, but could’ve been utilised more effectively, if the game plan was different.

O’Brien’s heat map shows him very wide to fit Huddersfield’s playstyle (Source: Sofascore)

Doing this it would have also allowed Thomas and Holmes to come in tighter to receive the ball. From there, they have two options; play it out wide again to Harry Toffolo or Oliver Turton, the two fullbacks who did not attack enough for me, or try and split them with a through ball to the strikers. Playing to the fullbacks could have potentially been better for crossing, as Ebosele and Byrne would’ve been pulled in, the defensive line would’ve been higher, resulting in a less crowded box and making it easier for Ward or Sinani to connect with a cross. They’re lucky that goals did come because Derby definitely could’ve nicked a point.

What do you think?