Huddersfield Town’s bid to climb out of the bottom three got significantly harder this week ahead of their potential six-point belter Saturday at John Smith’s Stadium versus Newcastle United.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
The Terriers (2-4-10) are at the top of the drop on 10 points, one better than both Southampton and Fulham. They have a Premier League-low 10 goals, and one of their primary sources of offence and playmaking – midfielder Aaron Mooy – has been ruled out until at least February with a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in last weekend’s loss to Arsenal.
It is a doubly cruel blow for the Australia international, who will also be unable to represent his country at the Asian Games in January. Mooy is the only midfielder or forward on Huddersfield with more than one goal in all competitions – his brace powering a 2-0 win at Wolverhampton on Nov. 25.
“I’m gutted to be missing an important time for Club and Country,” Mooy told the club’s official website. “We’ve got a lot of fixtures over the Christmas period at Huddersfield Town, but I back the team to continue our good performances and get the results that we’re targeting.
“I’m also sad that this injury will rule me out of the Asian Cup. I’d like to wish the Socceroos all the best as they head to the UAE; I’ll be supporting them from afar. The hard work on my recovery has already started and I’m looking forward to being back out on the pitch.”
The news also is not good in defence either as talisman and defender Tommy Smith is sidelined until at least the turn of the calendar year with a hamstring tear suffered in the loss to Arsenal. After using Smith at right back in a 4-2-3-1 set-up versus Arsenal, Huddersfield boss will likely have to revert to a three-man defence as he has done most of this term.
“The news on both Aaron and Tommy is not something we wanted, but injuries are part of football; we have to deal with it, manage it and carry on into this important December period,” Wagner said. “Aaron and Tommy are both strong characters and will work very hard in their recovery. We look forward to having them back.
“For now, this creates opportunities for others. I’ve said all along that we will need everyone in the squad to contribute and now we should see the benefits of having such a competitive squad.”
Wagner will be without one of Mooy’s potential midfield replacements as Abdelhamid Sabiri is sidelined until February following surgery to repair a broken collarbone suffered against Bournemouth. Huddersfield also have short-term injury concerns for this match with midfielder Jonathan Hogg (groin) and left back Terrence Kongolo (knee) facing late fitness tests.
Huddersfield – trying to avoid a fourth loss on the bounce — will also be without striker Steve Mounie, who is serving the last of his three-match ban for a straight red card given in their 2-1 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Dec. 1. The Terriers still have yet to get a goal from a striker this term.
Newcastle United (3-4-9) are in far better health than Huddersfield Town, but Rafa Benitez is trying to revive the club’s spirits after a hard-luck 2-1 loss to Wolverhampton at home last weekend as they are just three points better than the Terriers.
Ayoze Perez’s header on 23 minutes canceled out a Wolves goal six minutes prior, but the Magpies had to play the final 33 minutes down a man after DeAndre Yedlin was given a straight red card for a foul as the last man on a scoring opportunity.
Benitez’s side defended bravely in their bid to nick a point, but it came cruelly undone in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Matt Doherty had an uncontested header from close range on the rebound of a shot by Diogo Jota turned out by Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka.
Benitez was incensed at referee Mike Dean’s decision to eject the American international, who will miss this match due to the red card, and the Spaniard became the latest Premier League gaffer to feel VAR cannot come fast enough in the top flight.
“I saw the replay (of the elbow) and we need VAR right now,” he fumed to the Times, equally livid Dean missed what he thought was a penalty on Wolves after Perez had his nose bloodied in an aerial duel with Willy Boly. “I was praising the referee and they (the FA) fined me, so imagine how I feel now. You can see the two incidents in the video. It was unbelievable.
“You cannot believe this type of situation can happen in the Premier League. It was an elbow in the face, he was bleeding. It was so obvious.”
Benitez does at least have an in-form striker in Salomon Rondon. Though the Venezuela international was denied a fourth goal in five matches when his free kick thumped the crossbar, his graft in tracking to the outfield to recycle the ball resulted in him getting an assist with the cross for Perez’s goal.
Javier Manquillo will likely deputise at right back for the suspended Yedlin. Centre back Fabian Schar is also available for selection after serving a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.
Both teams recorded 1-0 victories on their home grounds last term, with Mooy’s goal on 50 minutes the difference in West Yorkshire in Huddersfield’s first top-flight home contest since 1971.
Per Bet365, Huddersfield Town are slight 13/8 favourites to claim all three points, while Newcastle are 21/10 underdogs. Oddsmakers are also giving 21/10 odds to the teams splitting the points.
Given the sides’ defensive set-ups, oddsmakers are heavily leaning on the teams failing to reach 2.5 goals with 8/15 odds. There are 6/4 odds on the clubs having an offensive outburst to get over that threshold. There are even money odds for both teams to score a goal compared to 3/4 odds for at least one clean sheet.
With Mounie out again, Laurent Depoitre is the top option to score the first goal of the game with 11/2 odds, followed by Huddersfield teammate Collin Quaner (6/1). Isaac Mbenza is a 7/1 pick for the hosts, as are by Newcastle’s tandem of the in-form Rondon and fellow forward Joselu.
Depoitre also leads the line for an any-time goal in this match with 21/10 odds, followed by Quaner (9/4). The aforementioned trio of Mbenza, Rondon and Joselu are all 11/4 to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Perez and Huddersfield’s duo of Adama Diakhaby and Elias Kachunga all listed at 3/1.
This is a really tough spot for the Terriers, who are clearly not dealing from a position of strength offensively without Mooy and Mounie, and potentially without Hogg as well. The pressure to pull the strings in the middle will fall upon Alex Pritchard to help Depoitre, who likely will operate as a long striker. On the flank, Florent Hadergjonaj will have to try and go forward to help pin Newcastle left back Paul Dummett in his own half of the pitch.
This match may be as simple as the Magpies pumping balls into the box to see what kind of damage Rondon can do against Huddersfield’s back three, especially if Kongolo is unable to play in this contest. It has taken almost half the season, but the Venezuela international is getting the type of results that are making Newcastle supporters slightly forget they let a similar striker in Aleksander Mitrovic go to Fulham this summer.
Not having Yedlin is a blow, but the return of Schar provides a stability to the central defence that was lacking somewhat last week. That was most evident in the breakdown on Wolves’ first goal with Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles. The good news is Benitez can use Manquillo for the first 45 minutes to figure out if he needs to replace him for the second 45.
This is not a matchup for those seeking goals, though Wagner and Benitez are both cagey enough to turn this into a chess match. But the lack of bodies who can create goals for the Terriers is going to loom large against a Magpies side that does their best work on the road.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Huddersfield Town 0, Newcastle United 1.