Captivating Pritchard key to Huddersfield's survival hopes
Huddersfield Town have officially completed a deal for Norwich City attacking midfielder Alex Pritchard. The transfer could potentially eclipse the £11.44 million club-record fee paid to Montpellier for striker Steve Mounie in July. Reports vary, stating amounts between £11and £14 milliom.
The Terriers have began their first top flight campaign since 1971/72 tremendously well. Following a three-game unbeaten start to the season, David Wagner's side earned notably outstanding wins against Manchester United and Watford. They remain in the FA Cup after defeating Bolton in the 3rd round. Halfway through January, they've claimed 24 points from 23 games.
Despite the many positives Huddersfield remain a strong contender for relegation according to most bookmakers. The club sits 14th, just four points above a Stoke side yet to play a Monday game against Manchester United. Part of the logic behind the odds on offer for both Town and Brighton is a distinct lack of goals. The Terriers have put the ball in the net just 19 times in the opening five months, fourth least in the division. Only Brighton, West Brom, and bottom side Swansea have had less joy.
How will Alex Pritchard's arrival affect their chances of dodging demotion? The Tottenham academy graduate spent the last year-and-a-half with Norwich City in the Championship. Pritchard racked up an impressive six goals and seven assists in 19 starts and 11 appearances from the bench in 2016-17. Canaries boss Alex Neil was reluctant to throw him into the mix immediately.
Usually performing on the left side of the three in a 4-2-3-1 formation Pritchard's consistency in the topsy-turvy Norwich side undoubtedly deserved more plaudits. The natural lack of pace that raised questions arguably makes him more efficient in a central position. Pritchard's tight ball control, clever positional play, astute vision, and pinpoint delivery complemented Wes Hoolahan's steady role perfectly.
During the campaign, the Orsett-born midfielder dazzled Canaries fans with authoritative displays. The statistics fully back his influence. Despite featuring in just 1,729 minutes of a possible 4,140, Pritchard averaged 2 shots, 1.9 key passes and 1.3 crosses per game. His shot tally ranked fourth-best in a club scoring the joint-most amount of goals in the division. His service was second-best.
While Huddersfield's fluid forward line have all chipped in with huge moments in a highly successful year, Pritchard statistically outclassed the lot. He also dominated Terrier's summer signing Tom Ince in the second tier.
Looking purely at attacking statistics over 90 minute periods, Pritchard completed 22.73 forward passes, almost twice as many as Rajiv van la Parra and Elias Kachunga on the wings, while averaging one more per game than Kasey Palmer. With regards to key passes, Pritchard completed 2.38 per 90 minutes. Palmer was his closest competitor in this section, managing 1.69. The Chelsea loanee also came in second place in chances created with 1.90, well behind Pritchard's 2.73. In total shots and goals scored per 90, the ex-Canary chalked up 3.31 and 0.35 respectively. Ince came second in both categories despite bagging 14 goals for Derby County courtesy more playing time.
How do these stats affect this year's campaign? Regardless Pritchard's early absence through injury, the 24-year-old has remained pivotal to an underachieving Canaries side under Daniel Farke. Kasey Palmer has failed to make an impact with the Terriers. With his deal terminated, David Wagner had a gap to plug.
Tom Ince, Rajiv van la Parra and Elias Kachunga have sufficed in the early stages but Pritchard's imminent arrival should increase Wagner's attacking options. As it stands, the Terriers have created the least Premier League opportunities from the middle of the pitch, a meagre 22%. They've attempted the fifth-worst divisional tally, 36% from the left hand side. In addition to those rankings, Huddersfield are attempting the joint-third worst total shots and shots on targets per game.
As an England U21 international Pritchard has shown an aptitude for playing central or wide left in an identical set-up to Norwich. He can add a real spark and unpredictability to Huddersfield's forward play. His sublime striking technique and ability to find space will allow for an increase in efforts on goal if
Wagner lines him up in the middle.
While the outlay is large for a club of Huddersfield's stature, Wagner and director of football David Moss have rightly identified Pritchard as an upgrade on their current assets. Defensive problems remain but this outlay will go a long way towards eliminating Huddersfield's flaws and confirming their Premier League safety.