TOTTENHAM welcome relegated Huddersfield to their new stadium for Saturday's early Premier League kick-off. Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) is not comfortable siding with the overwhelming favourites.
Tottenham v Huddersfield | Saturday 13th April 2019, 12:30 | Sky Sports
Tuesday’s 1-0 Champions League quarter-final first leg victory over Manchester City was a magical night for Tottenham. It was their second game at their new stadium – which feels more like a place with which they can spiritually identify than the previous temporary home of Wembley – and their first there in a European competition.
The atmosphere was therefore electric and that contributed significantly to a high-intensity yet controlled performance, in which under-fire stopper Hugo Lloris saved Sergio Aguero’s first half penalty, paving the way for Heung Min-Son to grab the second half winner.
However, Spurs have channelled much of their energies into their Champions League campaign – so can an already-relegated Huddersfield side take advantage of their mental and physical exertions?
We reckon Jan Siewert’s gradually-improving Terriers might just give Mauricio Pochettino’s a surprise the morning after the big welcome party.
Tottenham’s unsustainable numbers
Tottenham have ranked as the sixth-best performing team over the whole campaign – behind Wolves – and over the last eight games, their levels have dropped further.
Spurs average 1.38 Expected Goals (xG) in that sample and 1.54 Against (xGA), giving them a ratio of 47.20%, putting them 12th in performance data from the previous octet of encounters.
This is partly a reflection on the limitations of Spurs’ squad.
When they challenged strongly for the title in 2015-16 and 2016-17, they played the second half of both campaigns in the Europa League, knocked out of that competition by mid-March.
By channelling all their energies into one competition (Mauricio Pochettino rarely prioritises domestic cup competitions), they could make up for the lack of quality in depth through tactical consistency: every player in the regular 4-2-3-1 setup knew their roles inside out, thus contributing to fresh, fluent performances.
This season, Pochettino has had to juggle Premier League and Champions League responsibilities without the appropriate squad depth. The much talked about issue is the lack of investment and that is certainly valid, but the other problem is player identification.
Their North London neighbours improved their squad more in the summer because they had Sven Mislintat in control of recruitment, allowing them to spot future stars like Matteo Guendouzi who were not based at high-profile clubs.
By contrast, Pochettino insists on having a strong say in recruitment at Tottenham, which is limiting in terms of their ability to identify players unless they have fallen out of favour at an elite club, like Serge Aurier and Lucas Moura at PSG.
These issues mean 11 of the 14 players who made double-figures on league starts in 2015-16 are still at the club.
It’s of course positive that key players remain present, yet they remain short on quick full-backs and a midfielder who can control games – and, with Harry Kane out for the season, they look short of an attacking focal point.
Son is the most obvious alternative yet he is unlikely to be given much space through which to counter-attack, while Fernando Llorente’s heading ability is his sole selling point, which would make him a downgrade on the significantly better-rounded Kane.
Huddersfield’s Championship preparation
Huddersfield Town’s relegation was confirmed by a 2-0 loss at Crystal Palace in their last away game.
Terriers fans have probably deep down known their fate since Christmas, but the confirmation of the news means that their final six (now five) Premier League games act as almost an extended pre-season for their 2019-20 Championship campaign.
Dean Hoyle released a statement to accept that he might have got one or two things wrong this season but, amid slightly distasteful rumours, he re-affirmed the club’s commitment to German manager Jan Siewert.
That was an important step.
David Wagner’s greatest strength was his willingness to trust in people and create unity, but because of that he was perhaps reluctant to speak his mind when results went badly.
Siewert is slightly more direct than his compatriot and the club’s support gives him the mandate to impose changes, even though he has started his time in charge with nine defeats in 10.
Town fans can be encouraged by the improved creativity his side have recently shown, too.
The team’s Expected Goals (xGF) over the season reads a paltry 0.74 but over the last four games, that total has risen to 1.13, which puts them above five teams including Newcastle and West Ham.
The West Yorkshire outfit started to show what they can do going forward in the 4-3 loss at the London Stadium, where Karlan Grant bagged a brace. Plus, athletic wide forward Isaac Mbenza could come into their next XI, after a direct 45-minute substitute showing in last week’s 4-1 loss at Leicester.
While we would not necessarily expect Huddersfield to score in the capital, Grant and Mbenza’s mobility, perhaps combined with Alex Pritchard’s creativity in from the left, may offer them outlets sufficiently threatening to delay the point at which Tottenham attack without caution.
Defensively, meanwhile, Siewert’s troops possess prospectively one of the best centre-backs in the Championship in Christopher Schindler next to the powerful Rodney Kongolo.
If Spurs start Llorente or bring him off the bench, Huddersfield have the option to flip to five at the back, with aerial specialist Jon Gorenc Stankovic dropping deeper to carry out a man-marking job.
Spirited ball-winner Jonathan Hogg is can perform away to the top teams too, having put in incredibly tenacious performances at Chelsea and Man City at a similar stage last season.
The betting angle
Spurs look overpriced at 1/4 quotes, yet Huddersfield are not in strong enough form to back wholeheartedly. For that reason, we’ll seek an anti-goals play.
Tottenham have scored a paltry 10 first half home goals in the Premier League all season – three fewer than Burnley. Huddersfield, meanwhile, have only conceded 12 first half away goals – two fewer than Manchester United.
The hosts could be jaded from their Champions League exertions while Huddersfield, keen to relish a glamorous jaunt before exiting the Premier League, can execute an energetic first half containment job.
Tottenham v Huddersfield – 0-0 Half-Time Correct Score (16/5 Marathon)