Struggling Huddersfield Town host high-flying Middlesbrough at the John Smith’s Stadium this afternoon with David Wagner looking for his first win as Terriers manager.
Huddersfield are without a win since late October and their poor start to the season saw manager Chris Powell sacked and replaced with former Borussia Dortmund assistant manager Wagner.
Performances are steadily improving under Wagner but, ultimately, results are going against them, and they find themselves outside the relegation zone only on the virtue of goals scored.
The main problem for Huddersfield has been their attack with just 17 goals all season, with Nahki Wells and young loan star Emyr Huws contributing most of the goals.
Their defence has been shaky as well, which is in direct contrast to the Middlesbrough defence, which is one of the best in the league.
Middlesbrough’s defence has been solid all season with only Hull putting more than two goals past it, and Huddersfield don’t appear to have the attacking options to expose them.
Middlesbrough will be without captain Grant Leadbitter who misses through suspension whilst Daniel Ayala, Diego Fabbrini and Adam Clayton are all just a single booking away from missing the Capital One Cup quarter final on Tuesday with Everton.
Manager Aitor Karanka will still chance it though, as he has the options to rest them as these disciplinary records are wiped clean at the end of the month. Boro also welcome back striker Christian Stuani who has been missing through injury over the last few weeks.
FootballLeagueWorld writer Michael Hasan identifies three things to look out for in this afternoon’s clash…
1) The Stuani effect
Sometimes Middlesbrough look a bit toothless up front when they only have the one striker in David Nugent and, if Albert Adomah and Fabbrini aren’t on form, they do struggle to score goals.
But with Stuani likely to come in on the right after missing many weeks through injury, they have an extra dimension up front and, whenever he has played, he has looked brilliant in his interplay with Nugent.
He could also play up front or behind the striker, and certainly gives Boro another attacking option.
2) Change in the engine room
Another interesting thing to look out for with Middlesbrough is the change in midfield caused by the suspension to captain Leadbitter.
The usually industrious partnership of Leadbitter and Clayton has been key to Middlesbrough’s success but many Boro fans feel that it has little to offer when the team go a goal down, so it will be interesting to see who Karanka puts there.
The most likely option is Adam Forshaw, who is a more attacking option and impresses whenever he plays, or Karanka could play Manchester City youngster Bruno Zuccilini in the middle of the park, and play Forshaw in attacking midfield instead of the inconsistent Fabbrini.
It will be interesting to see what Karanka does.
3) Huddersfield’s potency
The main problem for Huddersfield and Wagner is finding a consistent goalscorer.
Wells is a decent attacker but not a 20 goal striker and, with no partner to help him out, they have relied on young midfielder Huws to score some goals as well.
With the team struggling up front, it will be interesting to see whether they can threaten the strong Middlesbrough defence.
With Wells likely to be marked out of the game by Ayala, they will need midfielders like Huws to exploit gaps at the back for them to have any chance of breaching Middlesbrough’s backline.
Middlesbrough and Huddersfield fans… how do you see the game going? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!