Wembley will host what is always billed as the ‘richest game in football’ on Monday, as Huddersfield and Reading do battle for the right to play in next year’s Premier League. £170 million is on offer for the winners, and it’s two of the Championship’s most unlikely clubs that stand to benefit.
Huddersfield finished the 2015/16 season in 19th place, barely avoiding relegation, while Reading were only two places higher in 17th. What a difference a year has made for both clubs as they find themselves on the cusp of taking a seat at the top table. The Terriers saw off Sheffield Wednesday in the play off semi finals via penalties after both legs ended all square. A 0-0 draw at the Kirklees stadium was followed by a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough, and it was Huddersfield who prevailed on spot kicks.
Reading faced the play off favourites, Fulham, in their semi final and progressed 2-1 on aggregate. A 1-1 draw away at the Cottagers was followed by a 1-0 win back on home soil – thanks to Kermogant’s second half penalty.
Both matches during the regular season between these two teams finished 1-0, with each side bagging the three points on home soil. They also finished the season just four points apart, with Reading in 3rd on 85 points and Huddersfield in 5th on 81 points. It promises to be a very tight final then, and one wouldn’t expect a glut of goals.
The upturn in both club’s fortunes has been little short of remarkable, and the man behind most of the good work at Huddersfield is German manager, David Wagner. He only took up the position in November 2015, but the man who cut his teeth at Borussia Dortmund immediately set about revolutionising the Terriers. New training regimes along with 13 new players enabled him to implement the high-pressing style of play which is also favoured by long-time friend Jurgen Klopp. It’s been 45 years since Huddersfield graced the top flight, and a return is just one win away.
The Royals also opted for a manager unproven in the English game when they gave Jaap Stam the role last summer. the former Manchester United defender had never managed a club side before, but has done a superb job to get Reading punching above their weight and competing in a Wembley final. Prior to the start of the season he quelled optimism by saying it would be hard to finish in the top ten, let alone the top six. His side has surpassed even his expectations to finish 3rd and reach the play off final, and victory would see them return to the Premier League after relegation in 2013.
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As mentioned, both games this season between the sides finished 1-0 in favour of the home side, and there is little to choose between them. It will also be an interesting tactical battle as Stam’s possession-based Reading side, take on Wagner’s high pressing Huddersfield. However, the German boss has shown himself to be tactically versatile. In the 2-1 win at Newcastle his side noticeably sat back rather than pressing, enabling them to hit the Magpies on the break and snatch the three points. Will he adopt these tactics on the big pitch at Wembley on a hot May bank holiday? Or will he ask his players to try and maintain the high energy and work-rate required for a pressing game?
Too much possession and not enough penetration has been a criticism of Stam’s tactics over the course of the season, but the Dutch manager has also shown his versatility by partnering Kermongant up front with on-loan Bournemouth striker Lewis Grabban. Whether Reading start with one or two up front on Monday remains to be seen.
Huddersfield and Reading to Draw
Monday 29th May, 15:00 GMT
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- championship play offs