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Gegenpressing: Huddersfield Town's Tactics Explained

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They've been described as the most tactically interesting team in the Championship, but what does David Wagner's tactics actually look like?

It's fair to say that David Wagner's tactics have caught the eye this season. He has transformed Huddersfield from 19th in the Championship to the playoff final and revitalised the whole club. It's hard not to like his positive manner and tactics.

There are some definite similarities with Jaap Stam. Like the Dutchman, his previous job was coaching the second team of one of Europe's biggest clubs, Borussia Dortmund.

Whilst Stam has introduced the Ajax or Dutch way of playing to the Madejski Stadium, Wagner's experience at Dortmund has influenced his philosophy.

The System

One of the hallmarks of Huddersfield this season has been how consistent their team has been. Ten players have started 30+ games with Isaiah Brown becoming a fixture since arriving on loan from Chelsea in January. Before Brown's arrival it was Kasey Palmer who tended to play the attacking central midfielder role.

Huddersfield's starting position is 4-2-3-1, that transitions into a 2-4-3-1 in attack, and a 4-4-1-1 in defence. Elias Kachunga and Rajiv van La Parra are more inside forwards than traditional wingers, supporting Nakhi Wells in the central areas of the pitch. Instead it is the full backs, Chris Löwe and Tommy Smith, who offer attacking width.

There is an emphasis on getting players into central areas of the pitch and for the whole team to play high up the pitch. This is shown by Huddersfield having just 25% of game time in their own half. That is a joint lowest with Derby and Fulham in the Championship, and is big contrast to the Championship high of 34% that Reading have.

One of the first things you'll notice about Huddersfield is their pressing game. Playing high up the pitch squeezes the game and means the Huddersfield players are in close proximity to opposition players.

They have less ground to make up when closing and pressing the opposition after losing possession. Their shape allows them to outnumber the two centre backs that teams usually play in the Championship, whilst still covering the central areas when players do push forward to press.

This forces the opposition centre backs to either go long or to pass wide to their full backs. The latter is often a trigger for Huddersfield to press even more aggressively.

The below diagram, by George Timms, shows the passing options for players in five different channels of the pitch when the opposition block the forward pass.. The player in the central zone not surprisingly has the easiest passing options available.

hudd2

The player in the half space can again pass either side, but the pass to the far wing becomes more difficult. The player in the wing has the least options, and can only pass inside, simply by, as Pep Guardiola once said, "the touchline [being] the best defender in the world."

So when the opposition play the ball to their full backs Huddersfield will press aggressively knowing he has few options. This intense pressing game is all about getting the ball back as quickly and as close to the opposition's goal as possible.

This style of football has become known as gegenpressing and Wagner's love for it was shown in his selection for Huddersfield's best goal from last season. His choice is hardly the most spectacular of goals, but shows his philosophy perfectly.

After losing the ball, Huddersfield quickly press Rotherham and regain the possession before launching a quick counter attack resulting in a goal.

Style on the ball

So far, like most articles looking at Huddersfield's tactics, we've focused on their impressive pressing game. Whilst it is eye catching, concentrating on it too much would ignore the fact that The Terriers' spend more time with the ball than without.

Over the regular Championship season, only Fulham (59.1%) and Reading (57.4%) enjoyed more possession than Huddersfield's average 55.7%. The number of passes Huddersfield (495.7) and Reading (496.7) average per game is almost identical.

The big differences lie in the number of accurate long balls and inaccurate short balls. Reading averaged the most accurate long balls per game (46.7) in the league compared to Huddersfield's 32.4. The Royals also averaged the least inaccurate short balls per game (53.6) whilst Huddersfield's average was the fourth highest in the Championship (65.7).

Lots of numbers, but what do they mean? Well, as already highlighted, Huddersfield play most of the game high up the pitch meaning they have less need for long balls.

They also play at a high tempo, which not surprisingly means they make more errors. They often look for one-twos and a key aspect of their games is players running into attack from deep. Huddersfield score a lot of their goals from through balls or low crosses.

Their equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday in the playoffs was a classic example. An excellent through ball from Brown released Kachinga whose low cross was turned in by a Wednesday defender. It will also a warning to Reading to not let Brown, or Huddersfield's player of the season Aaron Mooy, too much time on the ball.

Conclusion

Huddersfield have been one of the stories of the season. Their transformation testament to how the whole club has bought into Wagner's philosophy.

They will look to push Reading back into their half and give The Royals' players little time on the ball. When they get the ball, the first aim will be to launch a counter attack.

There is no doubt that Reading are in for a tough game. Huddersfield beat both Brighton and Newcastle, and they caused Manchester City lots of problems over two games despite playing a weakened side.

Poor end of season form when they took their foot off the gas meant Huddersfield slipped to fifth in the table. However, over the season few would disagree that Reading are facing the best other team in the playoffs.

Statistics are from WhoScored.