Huddersfield Town Versus Reading: Who Will Secure the Final Promotion Spot to Next Year's Premier League?
The last team in next year's Premier League will be decided early next week, as the Football League playoffs turn 30. Huddersfield Town will face Reading in the Sky Bet Championship playoff at Wembley Stadium for a chance to join Newcastle and Brighton and Hove Albion in England's top league.
Not that the Premier League needs more reason for those across the pond to watch, but both teams in the playoff have a connection to the United States Men's National Team. Huddersfield's manager David Wagner played eight games for the USMNT in the late 1990s, and Reading is where current USMNT midfielder Danny Williams plies his trade.
Last season in the championship;
A year later they face each other in the playoff final at Wembley.
— From The Stands (@FromTStands) May 17, 2017
Let's see how these teams got to this point.
The Terriers finished fifth in the league and got to the playoff final on penalties due in part to on-loan Liverpool keeper Danny Ward. They were one of two teams in the top half of the table to have a negative goal differential. Huddersfield have only scored four goals over the last seven matches.
The tactics of Huddersfield may be familiar to fans of Liverpool, as Wagner served as an assistant under Jurgen Klopp while at Dortmund. Wagner has called the road to Wembley a "fairy tale" for his football club. It's been 45 years since the West Yorkshire club were in the top flight and to get this close this year is quite remarkable given their financial backing.
Huddersfield have one of the smallest budgets in the Championship, but Wagner has been able to bring the team together. Wagner's efforts have not gone unnoticed, as rumors suggest up to a dozen teams are looking to steal him from Huddersfield.
📹 THE moment! #htafc (DTS) pic.twitter.com/KcYrYxKE8T
— Huddersfield Town (@htafcdotcom) May 17, 2017
Aaron Mooy won the player of the year award for Huddersfield and will play a big role in the final. The Australian midfielder had four goals and seven assists across all competitions playing in various roles through the center of the pitch. Mooy is currently on loan from Manchester City and looks likely to leave the Terriers when the season ends.
Aside from Mooy, the team found some offense from outside back Tommy Smith as he led the team with 10 assists. Elias Kachunga headed the attack with 12 goals while Nahki Wells contributed 10 goals.
Reading -- a club who was last in the Premier League for the 2012-13 campaign -- finished four points ahead of Huddersfield Town in the league, but they are on much better form. They've won 8 of their last 11 matches. Reading scored 68 times in 46 matches, with 21 goals coming in those final 11 games.
Williams appeared in 43 games, scoring four times for the Royals. Williams was played mainly in defensive roles, although he did play one game in the attacking midfield spot and three on the right side of the midfield. Williams' contract comes to an end this summer so his future with Reading is unclear.
MULTI ANGLE | Danny Williams plays @Chrisgunter16 in behind the defense who's pass then gives @JohnSwift8 his ninth goal of the season! pic.twitter.com/n5CFuYQ8Bg
— Reading FC (@ReadingFC) April 18, 2017
The Royals' attack has been led by 35-year-old Yann Kermorgant. The former Bournemouth striker had a career-high 19 goals this season. Kermorgant more than doubled the second-place goal scorer on the team, Garath McCleary. John Swift has also been a focal point in the attack, adding five assists this season.
The defense is led by 24-year-old Liam Moore. He has won close to four aerial duels per game and completes a sliver less than 86% of his passes.
Moore has likely benefited from playing alongside captain Paul McShane. McShane will be unavailable for the playoff final after he was shown a straight red against Fulham in the playoff semifinals.
Head to Head
The teams split the season series with both earning a 1-0 win on their home ground. Reading's victory was aided by two quick yellow cards to Rajiv van La Parra, allowing them to have a man advantage for more than an hour. Roy Beerens scored the only goal.
Reading have the advantage in the rivalry, winning 24 of the 50 matches played in all competitions dating back to 1975. Reading are also seen as the betting favorite as they are installed with 5/2 odds. The teams have split the last four matches.
The Championship playoff final is often billed as the most lucrative game in soccer as the winner is guaranteed at least $219 million for their promotion. Given the long drought from the top tier -- as well as their limited resources -- Huddersfield will likely be the sentimental favorite, but they're also the underdog.
On pure form, Reading is the pick. However, in a one-game playoff anything can happen, and emotion plays a big role in soccer. It should be an enthralling match on Monday at Wembley.