Huddersfield v Derby | Monday 5th August, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Pre-season can finally be put to one side and Monday night presents an intriguing battle from The John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield, back in the Championship following a memorable two-year stint in the Premier League, take on Derby, who only saw Aston Villa deny them their own spot in the Premier League.
Jan Siewert will embark upon his first full season with the hosts and in English football alone, and the same can be said in the opposite dugout as Phillip Cocu gets his teeth into football on these shores. If the ante-post odds are anything to go by, then both of these teams should be fighting it out around the play-off positions, so they’ll be eager to start strongly.
One thing Huddersfield will be extremely keen to do is firmly put a line under last season. For all that just being in the top flight was a success story in itself for the West Yorkshire outfit, they won’t have enjoyed being beaten on a regular basis. They found goals unbelievably hard to come by, netting only 22 times.
Ironically, they fell two short of the lowest all-time Premier League goals scored tally set by Derby, so there is one obvious area of improvement for the Terriers. Some fresh faces have been added to the group, but not as many as people might have anticipated. Perhaps only Kamil Grabara and Tommy Elphick are the only certain starters out of the summer signings who’ll play, although the likes of Herbert Bockhorn and Reece Brown will be hoping to come into Siewert’s thinking.
To just ‘turn it on’ after the season they’ve had is never easy. For all that the Championship is technically a lower level than the Premier League, it is just as competitive. Huddersfield found it tough going getting out of this league when they actually managed to do so under David Wagner, so nothing will come easy for them.
Now is when we can really judge Siewert after he inherited a sinking ship last season. They went unbeaten throughout pre-season, including opposition such as Montpellier and Hamburg, but as we all know, friendly results aren’t a strong basis to make too many concrete assumptions from. Nevertheless, just winning some games will have done this group some good, especially as they’ve won just 12 league matches over the last two campaigns combined – three of which were last season.
Siewert of course won’t have experienced this very unique division before, but he’ll have undoubtedly done his homework, even before taking the job, as relegation looked almost inevitable when he replaced Wagner. Still, that is another question mark on this Huddersfield side. On paper they’ve got a solid squad, but I just wonder if they’ll need a bit of time to get back into the groove of playing at this level.
Cocu to ramp things up
Derby, as expected, couldn’t keep hold of Frank Lampard over the summer, who found the managerial job at former club Chelsea too much of a challenge to ignore. It was a surprise to many to see that Dutchman Phillip Cocu would replace him, no less than 24 hours after Lampard returned to Stamford Bridge.
The 48-year-old former Barcelona midfielder is on something of a recovery mission in terms of his managerial career given that his time at Fenerbahce was nothing short of disastrous. He only lasted a couple of months in the job after languishing around the relegation zone just under halfway into the season. They eventually turned things around to finish in 6th, which presented further questions as to how Cocu got it so wrong.
However, he got plenty right during his time at PSV where he won three Eredivisie titles. It could be argued he was entitled to gain those given that PSV generally always fight for the title with Ajax at the very least, but he deserves credit for wanting to prove himself in a league such as the Championship, which clearly has European appeal.
Pre-season results haven’t been anything to shout home about, but again, that’s not a strong barometer to determine anything significant. However, performances have been up and down, suggesting that the players are still adjusting to Cocu’s methods and tactics. That simply has to be understandable considering he has only had a month or so in the job at Pride Park.
Derby are likely to improve as the season progresses, which again presents a question mark as to how they’ll perform in the early part of the season. They could be vulnerable, or they could really hit it off. They’re therefore something of an unknown quantity in some regards, and then there is the ‘play-off hangover’ which can sometimes take time to shrug off. That could be a bit of a myth however.
What to expect on Monday night
The early stages of any league on matchday one is normally a low-stakes kind of approach, but I think there’s a couple of players we can at least get involved with. Derby are actually unbeaten in their first game since 2008/09, which means 10 years in a row of not losing first time up. Those kind of records are made to be broken, just like Huddersfield winning first in only two of their last eight seasons.
Siewert isn’t a new manager, but he still sort of is in the sense that the judgement starts now for him, whilst Cocu obviously is a new man and Derby are likely to need time.
The Half Time Draw at 5/4 (Bet365) and Under 2.5 Goals at 17/20 (888Sport) looks the way to go here. It could be tactical to begin with and rather scrappy with both trying to find their rhythm. I’d be surprised if there’s many goals, especially with Huddersfield’s struggles last season and you get the feeling there’s more of a ‘must not lose’ kind of feeling around this game for both sides.