The odds of Huddersfield Town getting relegated were 11/10 at the beginning of the season. However, as the season progressed, the odds increased. In fact, the danger of relegation for Huddersfield increased to a point where Paul Merson, former Arsenal player, placed a bet where he told Sky Sports and its viewers that if Huddersfield remained in the top flight for another season, he would dress up as Gonzo from The Muppets.
To Paul Merson's dismay, and the amusement of a global audience, David Wagner was able to keep his side in the Premier League for another season after picking up two important points at Chelsea and Manchester City. But how did Wagner manage to keep a Huddersfield side that many pundits wrote off as a side bound to go back to the Championship, in the Premier League?
Much like his "best friend" Jurgen Klopp, David Wagner used the tool of Gegenpressing to a great extent. This is also reflected in the fact that no goal has come from a defender for the Terriers in the 2017/18 season and an astounding 19.6 tackles per game, the highest for a Premier League team this season.
The German tactic of Gegenpresssing has been employed by the likes of Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Heynckes. So what is gegenpressing?
Gegenpressing is the tactic where a team aims at winning back possession immediately after losing it instead of grouping back. They tend to do this by pressing forward in groups and surrounding the player to pressure him into an error or into giving the ball away. The tactic has seen several variations as it is used by different managers. For example, Pep Guardiola tends to block the passing lanes whilst pressing forward so as to intercept any possible pass the opposition player could make. Whereas, managers like Klopp tends to have all the press on the man with the ball which doesn't give him space to make an accurate forward pass and often leads to him giving the ball away.
David Wagner's pressing starts when the opposition plays the ball wide. Wagner played a 4--2-3-1 for the majority of the season with the likes of Tommy Smith, Scott Malone, Terence Kongolo and Florent Hadergjonaj as full-backs. Possessing great physical attributes, including strength, pace and stamina, these fullbacks along with the likes of Van La Parra and Collin Quaner, were able to press the opposition in the wider areas of the field, as well as maintain the structure of the back four when they lose possession.
The aforementioned physical superiority of the fullbacks allowed Wagner to trust them as wing backs in their last three games of the season against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Needing two points from those three games, Wagner's trust in these players was seen as a risky move. But, it turned out to be a stroke of genius as Huddersfield drew against the champions, Manchester City and fifth-place Chelsea to remain in England's top division.
Active Transfer Window
David Wagner knew well in advance the competition his team will face following their promotion. Therefore, in order to strengthen his squad, he spent heavily during the summer.
The most prominent signing being Aaron Mooy. After a season on loan in the championship, the former Manchester City player was a focal point in the survival of the Terriers in the Premier League. He assisted Depoitre's equaliser against Chelsea. The Frenchman's goal was Huddersfield's last goal of the season - a goal that meant Huddersfield would have another season in England's top division.
Mooy grabbed four goals and three assists in the Premier League this year. However, these stats reflect barely any of the work he does. Mooy has high work rates, is a creative player and can quickly turn defence into offence. With an eight million price, Aaron Mooy surely proved to be a steal and a clever investment as he won 18 Man Of The Match awards out of 22 home matches in his first season. Determined to play at the top level once again, he also put up some quality performances at the beginning of the season. Despite going down with a knee injury for two weeks, Aaron Mooy continued to pull strings in the heart of the Huddersfield midfield and was a key factor in their survival.
David Wagner also brought in firepower to the Huddersfield side as he brought in Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounie from Porto and Montpellier respectively. The duo scored a combined total of 15 goals, a stat that looks unflattering. However, these 15 goals were key in Huddersfield's survival and the two strikers played an important role. But football is a game of two sides.
On the other side of the pitch, stood Jonas Lössl. The Danish keeper made sure not many shots went past him, making a total of 103 saves in the Premier League season, nearly 40 more than those made my both keepers of Liverpool! He was brought in on loan over the summer from Mainz and made numerous 'superhuman' saves.
The additions of Scott Malone, Florent Hadergjonaj, and Terence Kongolo provided attributes and skills that perfectly blended with David Wagner's style of football.
Surprising, Important Results
Huddersfield had three stand-out highlights of the season - A victory against United, and draws against both Manchester City and Chelsea. These victories are highly credited to their offensive high-press as well as a basic structure at the back. Despite getting lucky with a poor performance from Lindelof in the United game and a laid-back attitude from the champions, Manchester City, the results were unexpected and hard fought. The discipline at the back was rewarded with quick goals on the counter, all of which were started by one long ball.
When asked about his 'switch off' or leisure activity, David Wagner replied by saying that he takes his dog for a walk. The activity not only allows him some leisure time but helps him to 'find solutions'. But of course, the once insurmountable task of staying in the Premier League was a result of more than just dog walks.
It was a result of tactical precision, excellent execution and a professional display from the team. Surely, David Wagner has a long way to go before he is able to achieve the success his friend, Jurgen Klopp has enjoyed. However, his new three year deal with Huddersfield excites both fans as well as pundits around the world. Could he lead Huddersfield to a top ten finish? Or even better, European football?