Premier League

Philip earns top Billing at resurgent Huddersfield

 • by Callum Rice-Coates
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On Sunday afternoon, after Huddersfield Town had beaten Wolves 2-0 at Molineux and climbed to the heady heights of 14th in the Premier League, Aaron Mooy received most of the plaudits.

It was understandable. The Australian had been everywhere for the Terriers, dictating the game on the ball, and scoring twice to give his side victory. He was one of several Huddersfield players who performed brilliantly.

But he might not have had such creative freedom in midfield had it not been for the efforts of Philip Billing. The 22-year-old Denmark international was exceptional alongside Jonathan Hogg and Mooy, stopping almost everything Wolves attempted to build in the middle and performing with great efficacy at both ends of the pitch.

Those who have watched him regularly this season would not have been surprised. Having only started eight league games last season, Billing has become a key man in David Wagner’s team. And Sunday’s performance was an encapsulation of what he offers.

He has made the most tackles of any Huddersfield player: 38 at a rate of three per game. He ranks high for interceptions, too, with 2.13 per 90 minutes. And he is an imposing presence in the air, winning 2.92 aerial battles per game.

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Defensively, Billing is hugely effective. But, as he showed against Wolves, he is also able to burst forward and create opportunities in forward areas, too. He has scored only once this season, but he averages 1.5 scoring attempts per 90. He is not in the team solely for his destructive abilities.

Billing is not afraid to shoot, either, and is a capable passer of the ball. His passing accuracy has improved significantly this season, from 75.7 per cent to an impressive 82.4 per cent. He has made an average of 0.71 key passes per game, up from 0.23 last season.

In all areas, Billing is improving. It has taken time for him to truly establish himself at Huddersfield – he joined the club in 2014 and did not immediately break into the first team – but he is now more tactically mature, more capable of carrying out Wagner’s instruction.

“He had this one great situation with the clearance that was at least as important as a goal,” said Wagner of Billing after the victory over Wolves. “I am very happy for him because this bit of fighting spirit in his game we always missed, but now he has got it and once he has this, he is a very big talent, but also a very good player.

“He has the technique and vision, he is six foot six, he has a (huge) throw-in, he has an unbelievable shot – he has everything.”

The clearance Wagner spoke of was a moment that typified Billing’s, and Huddersfield’s, overall performance. The midfielder raced back towards his goal as Raúl Jiménez’s header made its way – or so it seemed – into the net. Billing stretched out one of his endlessly long legs and cleared it just in time, although goal-line technology later revealed that it had been a matter of centimetres.

But he had done enough.

Wolves, for all their flair and creativity in midfield, did not have a player who could compete with Billing. Rúben Neves and João Moutinho were brushed aside throughout. The latter was replaced at half-time, but Morgan Gibbs-White proved equally ineffective against Huddersfield’s midfield three.

It is rare that the middle of the pitch is so utterly dominated by one team – or one player, as often appeared to be the case when Billing won back the ball and drove forward. It was a performance of power and composure, of energy and poise.

“It’s a long season and we still have to grind hard and work hard, but for sure I am happy with my start,” Billing has said. “It’s all about getting minutes in for me and playing well. I know the potential and quality I have, the ability I have, but it’s just about believing in yourself, going out and showing it in every game – that’s what I need to do.”

Billing is well on his way to becoming an indispensable part of this Huddersfield team. There are, of course, improvements to be made, and he is still in the process of developing as a player. But he is, as those who watched him against Wolves will attest to, a player with all the qualities required to excel in the Premier League.

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