This past weekend is the weekend that Chelsea’s hope of retaining the Premier League title was all but lost. The Blues will now have to regroup and travel north to the John Smith’s Stadium to take on Huddersfield.
Huddersfield can be tricky opponents, especially at home. While the Terriers have been on a poor run of form with just one win in their last five, three of those matches were away defeats and their win was this past weekend at home against Brighton.
By contrast, they’ve been far, far better at home, with four wins and just two defeats in their eight matches at home, including a 2-1 win over Manchester United.
Chelsea’s run of seven matches unbeaten in all competitions came to an end on Saturday with a 1-0 defeat against West Ham. The defeat is alarming on its own, but more concerning is the manner of defeat. Chelsea lack of energy and sloppy play led to West Ham seizing an early advantage and defending the lead resolutely against a Chelsea side that simply lacked ideas.
Antonio Conte’s men cannot afford to have a poor run of form in December, particularly with winnable matches on the horizon. The gap to sixth-placed Tottenham is just four points, and although winning the league may not be attainable, the Blues must make sure to hold off the chasing pack in order to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Which Huddersfield team will be playing on Tuesday?
Huddersfield can be a tricky opponent because you essentially have to prepare for two teams. There’s the Huddersfield team that presses you as soon as you cross the halfway line and disrupts passing lanes in order to create counter attack opportunities, and there’s the Huddersfield team that sits deep and keeps it tight and tries to counter attack by attempting to bypass the midfield as quickly as possible.
It makes them somewhat unpredictable because you can’t quite predict which style of play David Wagner will use on the day. Even Pep Guardiola mentioned this after their 2-1 win against Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium.
The fact is that Huddersfield will play both styles against top opponents. Against Liverpool and Manchester City, the Terriers elected to sit deeper and stay more solid, and against Manchester United and Arsenal, they attempted to press a bit more.
If Wagner has been paying attention, it’s more likely that Huddersfield choose to press Chelsea, especially if it means cutting off supply to Eden Hazard. This season, Chelsea have not dealt particularly well with teams that employ a high-pressing style of play. In a 3-4-3, the midfield often gets overrun, forcing the wing backs to drop deeper and cutting off supply to the front three, or in a 3-5-2, it leaves Hazard as the lone creator, especially when Cesc Fabregas can’t find enough time and space.
The flip side is that if Huddersfield sit deep and keep men around Hazard, Chelsea tend to find it hard to break through, especially if they’re playing 3-5-2 on the day.
With a crowded fixture list, Conte will likely revert to some form of 3-4-3 in order to rotate a bit. Danny Drinkwater is still questionable due to illness and Alvaro Morata may be rested after looking less than sharp at the weekend. Conte may opt to play the trio of Willian, Pedro, and Hazard together in order to try to deal with both approaches, but if Chelsea start off slowly, it might be a long night in Huddersfield.
Chelsea cannot keep starting slow and get away with it.
In four of their last five matches in all competitions, Chelsea have conceded the first goal. The only match in which Chelsea did not concede the first goal was against Swansea when the Welsh side managed just two shots total for the entire match and none were on target.
In all four matches, either sloppy defending or simply being not sharp at the start of a match has led to the opener, and on three occasions, Chelsea showed resiliency to either come back to earn a draw or come back to win.
That all changed against West Ham. Against West Ham, Chelsea never quite found a rhythm in the entire match, and West Ham’s early goal due to slack defending ended up costing them a win because the Blues were not able to find a way past West Ham’s defence.
Against Huddersfield, Chelsea cannot afford the slow starts that they’ve had in the last two league matches against Newcastle and West Ham because Huddersfield are a team that can create chances off the counter attack.
If Chelsea take 15 minutes to settle into the match as they did over he last two weeks, they risk allowing another team that does struggle t score goals the chance to play with a lead. If it happens in a third straight league match, it could become much more than a small blip.