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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 20 vs. Huddersfield Town

It’s a Battle for the Bottom of the Table!

AFC Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

The last time we were at Craven Cottage, Fulham suffered a mighty draw, because a victory was truly on their sights. Yes, Wolves absolutely dominated the second half and the overall underlying numbers as a result, but the home team had an opportunity to get themselves in a great start to stave off relegation.

Still, only four points separate 17th place Cardiff and 19th place Fulham and three Premier League clubs also have a goal differential of -20 or worse. Opportunities are there for Claudio Ranieri’s side to stay in England’s top flight in the long run, because you can guarantee that the bottom half of the league always finds a way to be so bad.

Burnley have basically stopped playing good defense now that the Sean Dyche magic is gone and now that Joe Hart is in goal. Cardiff are about play as perfect of Neil Warnock-ball as they come, which is essentially talentless on the whole and quite boring. Newcastle can’t score to save their lives and Southampton were on course for that if it wasn’t for their revival under Ralph Hussenhüttl. And if it weren’t for wins over Manchester City and Leicester, Crystal Palace would be on the verge of following the same fate.

But if there’s one team that is more deficient in attack more than any other team in the Premier League, look no further than Huddersfield Town. Even with their unforgiveable 1-0 win to Fulham back in November, that loan goal came off of an own goal via a set piece move. And after 19 games, forwards Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre have not scored a single goal.

It seemed like their victory back at the John Smith’s Stadium that fateful night would kick start their campaign, but after drawing with West Ham and defeating Wolves, Huddersfield have lost six in a row. The Terriers have been outscored 4-12 during that span and 5.47-9.59 in expected goals.

Now that may seem like they have been in a bit of bad luck, but that just has been the case all season for them. Their 13.97 expected goals scored versus 12 actual goals scored indicates that most of their rut has occurred during their bad spell of form, but both numbers are still bottom of the league by some distance. Add in the fact that Huddersfield’s most creative player Aaron Mooy has been out for three games and counting due to a torn MCL and that’s just adding insult to injury (no pun intended).

Meanwhile, Fulham and their supposedly poor defense looks more resolute as long as they play three at the back. But does that mean that their goal scoring dries out completely because there is no buildup play to speak of? Still, the men in white will have their full compliment of players back and the home crowd on their side for what has to be a three point performance. Do that, and their fight to stave off relegation is truly on.

But in order to claim victory, Fulham will have to get the better of these three players on Saturday.

Alex Pritchard

All data from whoscored.com

With Mooy out of the picture, Huddersfield will look to the former Norwich attacking midfielder to be the spark plug in Wagner’s side. That said, the 25-year old has had his key passes plummet from a usual 2.30 per contest all the way down to 0.88 per 90 minutes. Along with that, his xG Buildup of 0.08 is simply not good enough hoping to play the number 10 role in Mooy’s stead.

At his best, Pritchard likes to play behind the striker and either go for goal himself or go after people on the dribble. Those two qualities are still presentable, as evidenced by his 2.35 shots per 90 minutes and 1.10 successful dribbles per contest. But if it weren’t for two major ankle injuries he has had in the past four seasons, Pritchard could have built on his 12-goal, seven-assist season he had with Brentford back in 2014/15. Instead, he only has one helper to his name and is being counted upon to deliver so much more when it may no longer be feasible anymore.

Jonathan Hogg

All data from whoscored.com

While Pritchard is hoping to be Huddersfield’s answer in attack, there’s no denying how dependable Jonathan Hogg has been. The 30-year old has built a great double pivot with Philip Billing and has been a great servant to the club: garnering 168 club appearances during his six-year spell. This season, only his partner in crime has delivered more crunching tackles than Hogg’s 2.75 per 90 minutes and his 3.25 interceptions are the best among any key Huddersfield midfielder. So yeah, if there’s one thing you can count on with the Terriers is that they will be about as resolute as they can get in defense, regardless of what formation they use.

Zanka

All data from whoscored.com

Speaking of defense, you know how inept your football club is on the other end when your center back just so happens to be your leading goal scorer in league play. That’s right! Zanka’s three goals, including the lone goal in his club’s last fixture at Manchester United, leads all Huddersfield players in Premier League tallies.

But along with being so good in the set piece, the man also known as Mathias Jorgensen is strongest of all his colleagues in defensive actions as well. If anything, he is more the rock in Huddersfield’s backline, while Christophe Schindler is more the modern ball-playing type. It is about time the Dane is getting his just reward in international accolades as well as eight of his 20 caps have come in 2018.