Ahead of Man City's visit, Wagner must get Huddersfield scoring again
For Huddersfield Town, life looked so much better in the summer. Tipped by most to struggle in the Premier League, they confounded expectations by winning their first two games, devastating Crystal Palace in South London and then turning over Newcastle in their West Yorkshire home.
But reality is biting hard and Huddersfield have lost their last three Premier League games, failing to score in any of them. Moreover, where manager David Wagner is concerned, Borussia Dortmund's struggles have led to speculation that the German side might look to their former reserve team boss to arrest the slide.
Wagner has had opportunities to leave in the past, ignoring links with Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Leicester, but a few more thrashings might change his mind. Last weekend, Huddersfield were demolished by Bournemouth, despite Eddie Howe's side losing Simon Francis to a red card with half the game to play.
And, on Sunday, Manchester City visit the John Smith's Stadium. Irresistible, hitherto almost unstoppable Manchester City. Four days later, Huddersfield travel to Arsenal and, the following weekend, they go to Everton, who could have a new manager to impress by then. By the start of December, Wagner's side could be sinking dangerously close to the relegation zone. But perhaps it's not fair to ask what's gone wrong, exactly.
Instead, rather than being surprised that Huddersfield, scorers of just four goals in their last 10 league games, are slowing down, we should still be surprised they got here in the first place. After all, this club had a fraction of the resources of its rivals in the Championship; an increasingly capricious division populated by rich former top-flight sides like Aston Villa and Middlesbrough -- neither of whom are in the automatic promotion places -- and pugnacious, plucky scrappers like Burton Albion and Barnsley.
Huddersfield came up in the strangest manner, with a negative goal difference and having lost 15 of their 46 games, including six of the last 10. This hard-working, hard-running side limped over the line and somehow found the strength to force their way to a victorious playoff final penalty shootout against a Reading side that, to prove the vicious nature of the Championship, are currently 19th.
Huddersfield's brightest moment of the current campaign came when they beat Manchester United last month, thanks to a sweat-streaked performance that even Jose Mourinho felt compelled to lavishly praise afterwards. And there has been no shortage of effort in any of their games, but that isn't always enough. The Yorkshire club spent money in the summer, but it hasn't been enough to consistently bridge the gap between the Championship and the Premier League.
Aaron Mooy, whose loan from Man City was turned into a permanent deal for £10m, has been excellent as a box-to-box midfielder with the touch of a trequartista, but he's the only success story and, in truth, he was already there.
Thomas Ince cost £8m and is ninth in the league's charts for shots taken, having fired off 30. But he hasn't actually scored yet. Steve Mounie netted twice against Palace, but injury has since truncated his campaign and he's working his way back from the bench. No Huddersfield player has more than two goals this season.
Against Man City, you have to expect Wagner to adopt a cautious approach. It's the only sensible course of action and Pep Guardiola's side will tear apart better teams than Huddersfield with ease. But Wagner tried such a tactic at Anfield against his old friend Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool and it didn't work. In fact, it might be the only game in Premier League history where the expected goals at the end of the game read simply: "Maybe next week."
There isn't really a right answer when it comes to making a plan for a team like Man City. You can sit in your fox holes, track runners, fill gaps and hope that it all goes by quickly, but you may not get your pass completion stats into three figures.
Or you can attack, hunt in packs, steal back the ball and pillage a team that has been known to put every outfield player forward of the halfway line. But if you get that wrong even for a moment, you leave space of your own for plunder.
Strange things can happen in the Premier League; Palace, who are bottom but inexplicably overturned champions Chelsea recently, can vouch for that. But results wouldn't come much stranger than a Huddersfield win over Man City.
Wagner made an incredible start to the season and the win over Man United will live long in the memory, but he will know what needs to be done. His team isn't quite good enough to survive and so, come January, he will need to spend again. That is if he's still there himself.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.