Fresh from their opening day victory at Arsenal, reigning champions Manchester City continue their title defence by welcoming Huddersfield Town to the Etihad on Sunday.
The visitors suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat at home to Chelsea in their opening game and will be keen to cut out the individual mistakes that manager David Wagner claimed contributed to the score-line.
Last season Huddersfield boosted their survival bid by gaining a point at the Etihad with a hard-fought 0-0 draw, though having already secured the title the home side could be forgiven for letting their standards slip.
As Huddersfield have only won two of their last twelve homes games in the Premier League, they may be thankful for a game away from the John Smith’s stadium, but the fixture list has not been kind. The only chance the Terriers have of taking anything from the Etihad, will rely solely on their defensive qualities and concentration.
Let’s look at some of the key battles that could decide how Sunday’s match goes:
Steve Mounie vs John Stones and Aymeric Laporte
Whilst last season proved that Huddersfield Town does not necessarily have to score to come away with something from the Etihad, logic suggests that this time around they are unlikely to keep a clean sheet against City’s fearsome attack.
After all, that was City’s only blank in the league at home last season. Manager David Wagner will look to Steve Mounie, their 23-year-old striker to make a difference.
Mounie scored nine goals in thirty-one appearances last season. On the surface, not a spectacular return, but his goals were crucial in helping the side stay up.
Against Chelsea last week he was their greatest threat, striking the woodwork when Huddersfield were 1-0 down. If he is clinical on the day he could shock the home side, who are resigned to playing without Kevin De Bruyne for three months.
Stones and Laporte are undoubtedly City’s first choice defensive pairing now, but Mounie is strong in the air as his header against Chelsea showed, and it is not unfeasible that Guardiola considers the more physical merits of Vincent Kompany and/or Nicolas Otamendi to counter Mounie’s threat.
Whoever Mounie is up against, he will look to unsettle the home defenders, hold up the ball and hope for support from midfield when laying off the ball.
Aaron Mooy vs Fernandinho
Aaron Mooy has a clear link to Manchester City, despite having never played for them. Two years ago City purchased Mooy from sister club Melbourne City but had no intention of integrating him into their squad.
He was immediately sent on loan to Huddersfield Town, helping inspire them to their first promotion to the Premier League since 1972, and last summer the transfer was made permanent.
The Australian has been a key player throughout the two-year period, comfortable on the ball and the engine room for the Terriers. He has even chipped in with some important goals.
Up against him, however, is the champions’ own "vital cog" that makes the whole team tick. Fernandinho is the underrated star of the City team, a player who has consistently dialled in excellent performances week-in-week-out.
There is no other player that can do his job to such a standard, hence the pursuit of Jorginho in the summer. The Brazilian links defence to midfield and midfield to attack, has superb positional awareness and is efficient with his distribution. Mooy vs Fernandinho will be a key tussle in the middle of the pitch, but with City likely to dominate possession (it was 79% in last season’s corresponding fixture), Mooy will have to make the most of what time he gets on the ball.
David Wagner vs Pep Guardiola
A meeting between Pep Guardiola and a manager described as a Jurgen Klopp disciple (and close friend) should always be fascinating. Wagner has already had his moments too. Apart from last season’s league stalemate, the two sides met the previous season in the FA Cup, and at the John Smith’s stadium, another 0-0 draw was played out.
Wagner does not have the players to implement the intensive press that Jurgen Klopp has used against Guardiola, but his team will still be stubborn, defensively solid and tough to break down.
The dilemma for Wagner is how to approach the mismatch in talent. He can defend and hope to eliminate the space for City's wide players to exploit, keeping Huddersfield's third crowded and the game narrow, or could press high and with great intensity, which could leave his side susceptible to being outpaced and passed through on the counter-attack.
For City, this is the type of challenge Pep Guardiola mentioned in the summer as still being a problem for his side. It will be interesting to discover what tactical tweaks he employs in attempting to break the deep block and for the home fans, who will turn up expecting a comfortable victory, patience might be a key virtue on the day.
Either Pep relies on his normal line up, once more utilising his pacey full backs to overlap and interchange with the attacking wide players, or he reverts back to a 3-5-2 formation.
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