It’s always a gazelle, isn’t it? The plucky prey of choice for the wild’s most fearsome predators. Yes, a gazelle can run, it can offer resistance, but its fate is often sealed before the chase has begun.
Huddersfield Town are the Premier League‘s gazelle. The club from West Yorkshire have been a plaything for the rest of the division – except, rather ironically, Wolves. Battered, knocked down, torn apart, and ultimately relegated, Huddersfield will stumble on until May before the drop occurs.
And at that moment the top flight’s predators and vultures will circle, ready to extract their pound of flesh. Problem is, like with the gazelle, there isn’t that much to go around.
If Huddersfield had a squad packed full of Premier League talent, it’s unlikely they would have claimed just 14 points this term. It’s also unlikely would have become only the second side to be relegated in March. And they probably would’ve scored more than 19 goals.
Yet there are a couple of enticing prospects. Aaron Mooy is the obvious choice, but then there is Philip Billing, the Terriers’ defensive midfielder.
The Dane is the tallest player in the Premier League, standing 6ft 6ins. But he is a gifted footballer, technically sound and with a penchant for spectacular goals. Premier League sides will undoubtedly be interested in 22-year-old.
“He is a player you will rarely find in football with all the skills he has,” former Huddersfield manager David Wagner said earlier this season. “I cannot name you one 22-year-old player who is comparable with him.
“He is 6ft 6ins, left-footed, has an unbelievable shot. He has great vision, technique, a long throw-in, endurance and now, fighting spirit as well.
“Since pre-season started, he has the mindset for defending and aggression and that it is enjoyable to defend. He has added intensity and aggression into his game. Everything else he already had.”
Wagner’s effusive praise was, of course, conditioned by the fact he was Billing’s manager. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t valid. For example, this season in the Premier League, the Denmark under-21 international has won more defensive duels per 90 (8.63) than all but one midfielder.
Billing has also – unsurprisingly given his height – won 3.61 aerial duels per 90, a figure only two midfielders can better. And he is within the top 15 for interceptions and tackles attempted per 90.
Of course, there is a caveat to this. As touched upon above, Huddersfield are not a good side. They don’t score goals, they do concede them, and they are often on the back foot. So Billing and his fellow midfielder will naturally be defensively focused, prepared to shut off passing avenues and break up opposition runs forward.
And when the Terriers win back the ball, they don’t tend to do much with it. In the Premier League this season Huddersfield have created just 0.67 big chances per 90, no team has fashioned fewer. They’re also 17th for shots on target per 90 (3.2) and 18th for touches in the opposition area per 90 (17.17).
Billing is, of course, not blameless for these stats. But he isn’t the side’s creator, that role belongs to Mooy.
However, this season, the Australian international only marginally betters his midfield counterpart in open play key passes per 90 (0.78 to 0.73) and scoring attempts per 90 (1.75 to 1.72), while he trails in dribbles completed per 90 (0.7 to 0.9).
This suggests Billing has the potential to be more than a midfield destroyer. He just needs the right club to showcase it. Several have been linked with the 22-year-old since Huddersfield’s promotion to the Premier League, including the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, West Ham United, Southampton, and Crystal Palace.
Watford were also interested, according to the national media, prior to the winter transfer window. The Hornets supposedly viewed Billing as a potential replacement for Abdoulaye Doucouré, who was a January transfer target for Paris Saint-Germain.
Doucouré is an all-action box-to-box midfield. One capable of scoring goals and stopping them in equal measure. He wouldn’t be an easy man to replace should he leave Vicarage Road.
Billing doesn’t possess the 26-year-old’s attacking threat. Well not yet, anyway. And that is something which would have to be considered should the Hertfordshire-based club, or any other in the top flight, launch a move.
But for the right price – and a fee of around £20million has been mooted – Billing could prove a smart addition for several English sides. One who can make an immediate impact but has plenty of room to improve. His sale would also allow the Terriers to revamp their squad for the Championship.
But Huddersfield may want to keep Billing. They may not want to part with a player they’ve nurtured since he was 17 years old. But as they’ve found out the hard way, it’s almost impossible to stop the Premier League predators.