When you’re a manager, what matters more, the match at hand or the long-term? The answer is a bit of both but when you put together your match day line-up, one or the other must dominate. For many managers in the FA Cup, the long-term is most important. Therefore, the competition has suffered from poor play, as many sides have trotted out unusual line-ups or players needing minutes.
One of the most lauded manager in England faced this tough choice on Saturday. David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town club had a major opportunity to grab a signature result. A distracted Manchester City came to town. They are in a title chase and in the knock-out phase of the Champions League, so the FA Cup was a lower priority. Defeating Manchester City would be a major result for Wagner and the Terriers.
However, the club is sitting third in the Championship. Their sights are firmly set on promotion, and this match occurs in between consecutive Wednesday matches. Huddersfield plays a high-temp style which means fixture congestion impacts performance more so than other clubs. Just look at Liverpool’s current form and how tired their players seem on the pitch. To make the playoffs or even take an automatic promotion spot, Wagner needs to keep his key players somewhat fresh.
Wagner chose the future and made seven changes from their midweek match against Rotherham. Here, though, Wagner faced another choice. By keeping Elias Kachunga (11 goals) and Nahki Wells (9 goals) on the bench, the Terriers lacked reliable scoring threats in their starting XI. Facing a City team starting Sergio Aguero, many managers would opt for a more defensive shape in hopes of frustrating City and hoping to grab a goal on the counter. Wagner kept his usual game plan in hopes that the frenetic pace could disrupt City. It worked for his mentor Jurgen Klopp’s win over City in the fall.
What Wagner hoped for came true in the match. While Hudderfield could not score an opening goal in the first half, they had the better chances. The visitors showed some fight but overall put in a lackluster performance. At about the hour mark, Wagner put on Kachunga and Wells. The thought process was that Huddersfield had a prime opportunity to snatch a result without needing to play a return match. If he gambles and one of the best attacking options scored, Huddersfield gets the win. If they overcommit and City gets a goal, the Terriers are out but can focus on the league.
Unfortunately for them and for City, both clubs put on attacking players in the hope of avoiding a replay However, it was not to be as the match ended 0-0. The return leg will offer an even trickier choice for Wagner. The situation will be the same – they will be chasing promotion and need to rotate players. Does his club play their usual style and go for the win, or in this instance play conservatively and with second strong players to potentially steal a victory? On Saturday, his club played well with their ideals but it was not enough to get a deserved victory.