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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield vs Sheffield Wednesday: Championship play-off semi-final match preview, likely line-ups and score prediction

Jake Jackman

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The second Championship semi-final will feature a battle of Yorkshire as Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town compete for a place at Wembley. This will be a tactical battle as two bright coaches, David Wagner and Carlos Carvalhal, attempt to outwit the other. In the Championship season, Wednesday did the double over their Yorkshire rivals, but anything can happen in the play-offs and Town have every right to believe that they can progress from this tie.

Huddersfield came closest to breaking into the top two of the division of the teams fighting it out in the play-offs. There was a point where they were the form team of the country and right on Newcastle’s tails. However, a draw to Derby County stopped their momentum and Wagner accepted in that moment that his team would have to settle for a play-off spot. That still represents a huge achievement for Town, but three losses from their last four matches mean that they come into this match on the back of poor form. They chose to rest key players during the final few weeks of the season and they will be hoping that decision pays off with a strong performance on Sunday.

On the other hand, Wednesday come into the play-offs in great spirits after winning six of their last seven matches. They will be disappointed to have lost on the final day against Fulham, but they had rested some key figures and will have quickly put the defeat behind them. Carlos Carvalhal’s men lost in the play-off final last season and they have the most recent experience of this situation. That should give them a slight advantage over the other three teams. They know what to expect.

Recent form

The end of the season wasn’t ideal for Town, as they lost five of their last ten matches. However, two of those losses came as a result of Wagner deciding to rest key players. A more pressing concern is that they conceded five goals without reply in their final two matches, which saw them end the season with a negative goal difference.

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As mentioned above, Wednesday won six of their last seven matches to ensure that they finished in the top six. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the division this season and proved that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke. During their final eight matches, the side only conceded six times and their defensive solidity gives them a good chance of winning the play-offs.

Predicted line-ups

Joel Coleman will start in goal for the home side, while Izzie Brown, Elias Kachunga and Nahki Wells could all start in attack. Aaron Mooy has been one of the best players in the Championship this season and he will be important to Huddersfield’s chances in this match.

Jordan Rhodes is likely to retain his place in attack as Gary Hooper struggles with an injury. Fernando Forestieri is probably going to start on the bench but will be keen to play a part in the tie as he has scored in his last three matches against Huddersfield.

Injuries/suspensions

Danny Ward will be suspended for the first leg after being sent off against Cardiff City. Elias Kachunga should be back from a calf injury to play a part on Sunday.

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Gary Hooper is the only injury concern for the away side and it would be a huge blow if he failed to recover in time for the first leg. Marco Matias will be suspended after his red card on the final day.

Match Prediction: Huddersfield Town 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday

This will be a tight and hotly contested match, with two Yorkshire clubs desperate to reach the play-off final. Sheffield Wednesday have the mental advantage as they have not lost any of their last seven matches against Huddersfield Town. It is difficult to see that record changing considering the way that both sides finished the Championship season. The away side have the experience of the play-offs and they should have enough to secure a good result at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Bournemouth

Huddersfield Town 4-1 Bournemouth: Alex Pritchard steals plaudits after running the show

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Huddersfield Town took a huge leap in the race for survival with a 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Huddersfield Town produced a four-star performance to brush aside Bournemouth and move out of the Premier League relegation zone.

Junior Stanislas quickly cancelled out Alex Pritchard’s seventh-minute opener, but from that moment it was one-way traffic as the Terriers showed their bite on a freezing afternoon in Yorkshire.

A Steve Cook own goal made it 2-1 at half-time before Steve Mounie and a stoppage-time penalty from Rajiv van la Parra completed the drubbing.

Huddersfield climbed to 17th as a result of this much-needed victory, while Bournemouth’s excellent recent form came to an abrupt halt with their first defeat of 2018.

Here are three talking points…

Huddersfield breathe new life into survival bid

Boss David Wagner had highlighted his side’s upcoming run of fixtures as crucial to their ambitions of avoiding relegation back to the Championship.

On the back of five consecutive defeats, Huddersfield had free-fallen into the drop-zone.

Although the win over Manchester United will take some beating in the eyes of the fans, given their predicament this was arguably their most important three points of the campaign.

It was a crushing triumph and one that the Terriers fully deserved.

Yes, they caught the visitors on a bad day, but much of that was due to the nature of Huddersfield’s display.

They gave Bournemouth no time on the ball to play their natural passing game and took their chances when they came along.

Especially from set-pieces, Wagner’s men looked dangerous and exploited the Cherries’ weakness in the air.

The bottom half of the table remains incredibly congested, but this result gives Huddersfield genuine hope that survival is possible.

Bournemouth’s unbeaten run comes to a crashing end

Entering this match at the top of the form table, this was Bournemouth’s worst result of the season.

From the first whistle they were out-battled by a Huddersfield side that were fighting for their lives.

Perhaps an air of complacency had surfaced following the Cherries’ unbeaten sequence, which had stood at seven games and included victories over Chelsea and Arsenal.

Talk of qualifying for the Europa League can now be parked to one side.

Despite being in 10th position, Bournemouth are not assured of survival just yet.

Boss Eddie Howe will back his troops to get the three wins they need to reach the 40-point mark, but this was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premier League.

He will be thoroughly bemused by this showing.

It was a day to forget for the Cherries and their dedicated supporters, who had left in the very early hours to embark on the long journey north for this lunch-time kick-off.

Pritchard brings ingenuity to the Terriers’ ranks

Although Huddersfield’s win was a by-product of a real team effort, one player that deserves special praise is new recruit Pritchard.

Signed from Norwich City in the January window, he ran the show in midfield, making the Terriers tick with crisp passing.

Pritchard opened the scoring in the early exchanges with a well-taken finish for his first ever Premier League goal, at the seventh attempt.

He had previously played in the top-flight with Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

There is always a risk attached to any new signing from a lower division, but Pritchard had demonstrated enough class for Norwich to indicate he would be able to make the step-up.

The 24-year-old will face tougher challenges in his midfield role, but he has brought a touch of guile and class to Huddersfield.

Pritchard’s teasing run that induced the foul for a penalty in added-time underlined his capability to make things happen.

Wagner will hope it is a positive sign for the run-in.

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Chelsea

Three talking points as Chelsea brushed aside Huddersfield Town

Rob Meech

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Chelsea bounced back from their surprise defeat to West Ham United with a comfortable victory over Huddersfield Town. The Blues totally dominated at the John Smith’s Stadium and the result never looked in doubt once Tiemoue Bakayoko had given them a 23rd-minute lead.

Willian doubled their advantage before Pedro added a third goal, five minutes into the second half. The Terriers grabbed a consolation through Laurent Depoitre with the last kick of the game, but the gulf in class was evident on a rain-soaked evening in Yorkshire.

Chelsea’s win brought them level on points with second-placed Manchester United, at least temporarily, while Huddersfield’s defeat was their fifth in their past six Premier League matches. Here are three talking points.

Antonio Conte’s players deliver the perfect riposte 

This was a fixture that had all the characteristics of an upset. The weather was dreadful, with rain falling heavily throughout. Given the way the Terriers had recently pushed Manchester City all the way, not to mention seeing off Manchester United on home turf earlier in the campaign, many tuned into BT Sport thinking the Blues would find things difficult.

It didn’t materialise. Chelsea were in command from the first whistle and the only surprise was that it took them until the 23rd minute to break the deadlock. After their defeat to West Ham, this was just the response boss Antonio Conte would have wanted from his players.

They dictated the tempo of the game and never allowed Huddersfield – or their supporters – an opportunity to stamp their authority on the contest. The fluid movement of Chelsea’s front three caused the Terriers plenty of problems and led to individual mistakes, with one such error leading to Bakayoko’s opener.

Alarm bells are ringing for Huddersfield

Anything other than defeat would have been a bonus for David Wagner’s side, who had set up to frustrate the visitors. By beating Brighton & Hove Albion three days earlier, they have given themselves breathing space in the battle to avoid relegation. But the Terriers cannot afford to be complacent.

Although their current position may look relatively safe, a run of five defeats in six games, as well as a vastly inferior goal difference, suggests there could be worrying times ahead. Against the two Manchester clubs, Huddersfield made life difficult for their opponents. But they were far too passive against Chelsea.

Perhaps it is understandable that Wagner wants his players to conserve their energy for fixtures against clubs with whom they are battling for survival. But the home fans surely would have expected a more positive approach.

Is Michy Batshuayi surplus to requirements?

With Alvaro Morata suffering from a back complaint and rested for this match, Michy Batshuayi must have thought he would be handed a rare opportunity to impress from the start. Tellingly though, Chelsea boss Conte opted for a front three of Willian, Eden Hazard and Pedro, with no out-and-out striker.

This would have been a huge kick in the teeth to the Belgian marksman, who has failed to establish himself since joining the west London outfit from Marseille in the summer of 2016. Last season, he was forced to play second fiddle to Diego Costa, while now he is behind Morata in the pecking order.

Batshuayi has enjoyed success from the bench; famously he netted the goal that confirmed Chelsea as title winners in the previous campaign. This latest snub must be further evidence that Conte does not see Batshuayi as part of his long-term plans and there is speculation the Italian might be willing to allow him to go out on loan in January.

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Arsenal

Three talking points from Arsenal’s demolition of Huddersfield Town

Rob Meech

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Arsenal recorded their third consecutive Premier League victory as they outclassed Huddersfield Town at the Emirates. It took the hosts only three minutes to break the deadlock through Alexandre Lacazette, but it was in the second half that the floodgates truly opened.

Olivier Giroud (two), Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil all added to the scoreline in the final 22 minutes of a one-sided affair that will have deflated the travelling Terriers fans. After a troubling start to the season, the fourth-placed Gunners look to be back to their free-flowing best, while Huddersfield’s third defeat on the bounce leaves them in 14th position. Here are three talking points.

Crisis, what crisis? Arsenal are back to their old selves

Barely a game goes by without Arsene Wenger’s managership of Arsenal being questioned in some quarters. But the level-headed Frenchman has navigated his way through the storm and now appears to have steered his squad into calmer waters. With speculation over the future of Ozil and Sanchez having settled down, Wenger’s charges are playing with confidence and suddenly look like the Arsenal of old.

The Emirates has been a fortress for the Gunners this season – they have yet to drop a single point there. Arsenal often flatter to deceive and capitulate when the going gets tough. Who knows what will happen over the winter months? Tougher tests await them for sure, but when they breeze past opponents in this manner, you wonder why it goes spectacularly wrong so often.

Huddersfield outgunned once more on their travels

Huddersfield’s campaign will not be defined by results such as this, but they shouldn’t be written off as inconsequential. All defeats have ramifications and confidence will be eroded quickly if they continue. While they remain competitive at home – as they proved by pushing Manchester City all the way last weekend – they look toothless on their travels. Indeed, the Terriers haven’t scored away from the John Smith’s Stadium since August but have conceded nine goals without reply in their past two trips.

No team can rely solely on results at home to survive. For all the plaudits Huddersfield have rightly received for their enterprising start since being promoted from the Championship, they now find themselves only five points clear of the drop-zone. David Wagner has his work cut out to arrest the slide.

Super-sub Giroud is proving his worth

There was speculation in the summer that Giroud would be on his way out of the Emirates following the arrival of his countryman Lacazette. Giroud has spent more time on the substitutes’ bench this season than he would have liked, but when he has been given an opportunity, invariably he has taken it. The 31-year-old’s two goals against Huddersfield took his tally for the season to five – the same number as Sanchez but at a much quicker rate.

With Lacazette potentially sidelined for a prolonged spell after picking up a groin injury, Giroud may well find himself promoted to the starting line-up for a crucial period of the campaign. He gets a rough ride from certain sections of the Arsenal faithful, but has netted more than 100 goals for the club in all competitions. The Gunners rely on him more than some supporters may believe.

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