With no football this weekend for Manchester City, attention turns to the FA Cup Fifth Round replay against Huddersfield Town on Wednesday.
The stalemate at the John Smith’s Stadium will not live long in the memory of fans from either camp. It was a dour affair of few opportunities, in stark contrast to the Blues’ Champions League clash with Monaco on Tuesday night.
Wednesday’s visitors from across the Pennines, while operating on a relatively meagre budget in comparison to their promotion rivals, are taking the Championship by storm. At the start of the season, bookmakers had the Terriers at 11/2 to be relegated from the second tier – now David Wagner’s side are 11/2 on to reach the Premier League come May.
So, what exactly has Huddersfield’s German maestro done to turn around the fortunes of the West Yorkshire club that has flirted with relegation since winning promotion to the Championship in 2012?
It all started with a pre-season team bonding trip to Sweden, where the players canoed from island to island for four days, found their own water and caught fish to cook and eat. His reason? To take the team out of their comfort zone: “In the Championship there is no comfort zone.”
The trip appeared to have the desired effect, with Huddersfield sitting top of the table in October for the first time since December 1999, and dreams of a place in the Promised Land beginning to look more and more like a reality.
Huddersfield haven’t been in the top flight of English football since the days of Ian Greaves, who led the Terriers to promotion in 1970, before succumbing to relegation two seasons later. Two relegations in three years followed as Huddersfield plummeted into the fourth tier.
But now, under the Wagner Revolution, Town are firmly heading in the right direction and are just four points behind second place Brighton with a quarter of the campaign remaining.
Momentum is with Huddersfield, who have lost just once since December – picking up an incredible 35 points from 14 games. A similar return would see them end the season with 99 points, which, on current form (including that of Newcastle and Brighton), would see them crowned champions.
Their high pressing game is a huge part of Wagner’s philosophy, having worked alongside Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. While Klopp took charge of first team affairs, Wagner coached the reserve squad – guiding them to the Regionalliga West title in 2012.
The German arrived in West Yorkshire on 5 November 2015 to replace Chris Powell with the Terriers 19th in the table, where the club would eventually finish at the end of the season. Pre-season gave Wagner the opportunity to stamp his authority on the squad, bringing in 15 new players in the summer transfer window to transform Huddersfield into a new, more energetic animal.
The FA Cup may well be seen as a distraction by Wagner who could rest a host of key players ahead of a top of the table clash at home to Newcastle the following weekend.
With City not in action again until travelling to Sunderland on Sunday 5 March, the squad should be fresh from their warm weather training camp to Abu Dhabi and raring to progress to the quarter finals.
Written by Chris Wildgoose
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