Remember all the nonsense in the World Cup break last year? How City were going to come back a different animal? As we all know, that didn’t happen, at least not in a positive sense. However, after a pre-season under David Wagner, City have genuinely been transformed.
A game against Neil Warnock’s Huddersfield was never going to be pretty. And it wasn’t. But City stood toe-to-toe with their physical opponents and didn’t waiver.
Perhaps the most astute of all of Stuart Webber’s signings may prove to be Narcis Pelach. Apparently, he is responsible for the preparation of the game plans. City have approached each game this season with visibly different game plans.
Yesterday was a new variation. Building up from the back, Ashley Barnes or Josh Sargent, sometimes both, would drop deep into midfield to receive the ball from Shane Duffy. They then looked for the pass on the turn into wider areas to feed Jack Stacey or Dimi Giannoulis. Alternatively, they passed back to Duffy who would hit a raking long ball into the space on the flanks. Simple. Effective.
As early as the first minute, City played a fluid move down the left. Sargent played it wide to Giannoulis before getting into the box to head the Greek’s cross straight at keeper Nicholls.
City were looking to get forward in numbers, but that has its risks. A neat move broke down on the edge of the Huddersfield box when a Jonathan Rowe 1-2 didn’t come off. Within moments, Huddersfield were on the edge of the City box, Koroma hitting a shot that skimmed the upright.
City then won two corners in quick succession after Rowe, with his back to goal, turned and hit a snapshot that was deflected wide. From the second, Huddersfield again struck back, winning a throw-in deep on their right, which was launched long into the City box and eventually hit long up the field.
As ever, Sargent was a willing chaser as the ball was nicked by Huddersfield towards keeper Nicholls. As the keeper went to kick clear, Sargent stuck out a leg and blocked the clearance, the ball looping towards the goal. The City striker won the race to nod the ball home, but in the process fell awkwardly. It was to be the end of his game and he appeared at the final whistle sporting a protective boot.
From the restart, there was a sustained spell of Huddersfield pressure. However, their main line of assault was to deliver aerial balls into the box, and Ben Gibson, Duffy and Stacey were more than up to the challenge and defended stoutly.
City eventually got clear and won a throw on the left. Giannoulis took it, and as Rowe controlled the ball, he was caught on the leg and referee Whitestone pointed straight to the spot.
Ashley Barnes cooly stepped up, sent the keeper the wrong way and extended City’s lead.
The game then became quite scrappy. Thomas was trying his best to ‘get to’ Rowe with a succession of robust challenges. City were less able to create the midfield overloads and were resorting almost exclusively to the long diagonal balls.
The wrong sort of football – the sort with the oval ball – threatened to break out. Duffy saw yellow for a foul on Diarra before Koroma literally rugby-tackled Rowe as he threatened to break free.
Huddersfield went into damage limitation. They stood off City, who were able to walk the ball out from the back, but towards the end of the half, they finally came forward with purpose again, only for a Ward header to bring a superb save from Angus Gunn, flinging himself high towards the top corner to palm the ball away.
After half time, City wasted no time in asserting their dominance.
They broke down the right – Christian Fassnacht flicked the ball to the overlapping Adam Idah. The youngster looked up and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Rowe to slot in from the near post. Five in five.
Five minutes later, the Irishman was at it again, another powerful run, this time feeding Stacey on the right, but his cross to Rowe was stifled by the defence.
Huddersfield broke quickly. Duffy managed to hold up Rudoni before Fassnacht arrived on the scene and nicked the ball.
Huddersfield were beginning to flag and Warnock changed it up with a triple substitution on 66 minutes. The game though, quickly settled into a pattern where City were putting together quick, incisive moves, looking like they were hungry for more goals. When the moves broke down, Huddersfield would try to counter quickly, only for the City defence to foil them.
I lost count of the number of headers won and blocks made by the back line, clearly determined to get that first clean sheet.
On 75 minutes, Rowe gave way to Przemysław Placheta and Tont Springett replaced Fassnacht. Springett was quickly in the action as City broke, but his cutback held up in the grass.
Placheta and Giannoulis combined well on the left, allowing Kenny McLean to deliver a teasing cross to the back post. Stacey got to it and headed it back towards the six-yard box but he was stretching too much for the ball to be effective.
On 83, City sealed the game. Placheta did really well on the left, powered past the full-back before delivering the perfect ball into the path of Idah to take a touch and calmly rifle past Nicholls.
That was his last action though as he too was substituted, along with Giannoulis with Liam Gibbs and Marcelino Nunez coming on.
Gibbs clearly wanted to make an impression, with a number of powerful runs through the middle. He laid the ball to Stacey who did well to keep it in but Barnes’ shot was blocked and Placheta hit the rebound wide.
Four minutes into added time, City looked to have a fifth. Placheta ran through the middle and looked poised to shoot but instead fed Springett. He cut inside and crossed for Barnes to finish but the flag went up for offside.
City were impressive. Under Daniel Farke, we were treated to constant champagne football. Wagner’s team has its moments but it is combined with a more robust brand too – John Smiths perhaps!
The hard work and miles run are what enable the quick, incisive moves. And at the back, the defence is determined and solid. Duffy and Gibson barely missed a header all afternoon.
Agent Farke also did his work down the A140 yesterday. The league table looks rather pleasing this morning.