Huddersfield Town took on a bold decision appointing Carlos Corberan as the club’s head coach in the summer. It was a different direction to Danny Cowley and questions were raised at the time of his arrival at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Corberan was, and still is, a rookie in terms of management. When you see him sharing the touchline with veterans like Neil Warnock and Tony Pulis, donning his crisp chinos, you soon realise he’s part of a new generation of football.
This is the modern game and Huddersfield Town are part of it with Corberan around. Their style of play, naturally, resembles what Leeds United were doing under Marcelo Bielsa. Risks are taken in possession and hard work is required off the ball.
How Huddersfield’s players would adapt to the demands of Corberan was also brought up. On one hand you had the likes of Lewis O’Brien, Harry Toffolo, Fraizer Campbell and Jonathan Hogg, who would work their socks off if the new system breathed success. On the other hand, though, you had players that had fallen short under previous regimes.
Could they adapt to these demands? Would they respect what a relative rookie was asking of them? The answer on the whole is quite simply: yes.
Some haven’t and they’re finding their game time limited, but those at the forefront of Corberan’s side at this moment in time are getting big minutes and plenty of praise.
That brings us to Isaac Mbenza; full of confidence and verve after making such a difference in Saturday’s win over Watford.
A week on from a hammering at the hands of Bournemouth, Huddersfield fans were fearing the worst ahead of Watford’s visit. Josh Koroma and Ben Hamer were some of the absent first-teamers, whilst Vladimir Ivic’s side boasted serous depth. Troy Deeney was an unused substitute to underline that.
However, what was on show at the John Smith’s Stadium was a group of players that would do anything for their manager versus a ‘Premier League squad’ looking lost under another failed regime.
The man epitomising everything that Huddersfield are about at the moment is Mbenza.
He was signed for around £11m in July 2019, but had such a limited impact in the Championship last season for Jan Siewert and then Cowley. A loan to Amiens came and went, before Mbenza returned to see where he might fit in under Corberan.
The 24-year-old has been a regular and featured in 19 of the 20 Championship fixtures this season. Three goals and four assists have been returned, but other areas of Mbenza’s game are really shining through.
Wyscout stats (per 90) tell us he’s averaging 2.19 touches in the penalty area, 1.74 progressive runs, a 61.1% dribble success and over two accurate crosses per game.
Corberan’s style is about slick attacking, but also willing defending. Mbenza averages 2.9 recoveries per 90, as well as a defensive duel success of over 55%. Additionally, there’s the pure desire to close down opposition at every opportunity, which was on show against Watford.
Mbenza chased down a back pass played to Ben Foster on only nine minutes, forcing the Watford goalkeeper into an indecisive clearance that landed at the feet of Campbell. The striker’s task was simple as he converted for 1-0.
One thing that Corberan will not carry at #htafc is passengers. Isaac Mbenza has bought into his ideas and has been superb in the front three this season. The willingness to press Foster into that mistake deserves huge credit.
— AGB (@BurnsAlfie) December 19, 2020
After more good work from Mbenza on the half-hour mark, Etienne Capoue turned the winger’s resulting corner into his own net. It was a case of hard work to win the set-piece initially, but then that little bit of class you only get from multi-million pound signings.
Watford were dealt with relatively easy in the second-half. Ryan Schofield pulled off a number of impressive saves as he deputised for Hamer, but Mbenza and Campbell worked their socks off in attack, whilst also carrying that goal threat missing through Koroma.
Corberan demands that work ethic all over the pitch and his philosophy tells you that if the basic commitments are carried out, his sides will create enough goalscoring opportunities.
How the players are buying into what the Huddersfield coach wants has to be admired. Right now, Corberan can do little wrong in the eyes of some, but it’s unfair to overlook the job of his squad. They are putting their bodies through hell and searching for the reward that days like Saturday bring.
Mbenza’s future when Corberan arrived was unclear. Part of the intrigue that came following his appointment was what he would make of those players that fell short before.
The response from players like Mbenza speaks volumes. The respect between player and manager is there and, at this stage of the season, it’s a real success story.