There hasn't been much change in the Huddersfield team so far this season, but one area that has seen some rotation is the position next to Aaron Mooy in the first band of midfield. Given the injury to Jonathan Hogg in pre-season, Philip Billing was given the nod to deputise, with new signing Danny Williams having to wait for his full Premier League debut. However, an injury to the German-American shortly after his introduction in to the side reopened the door for Hogg, who reclaimed his place at the expense of Billing, who has in turn become a regular feature from the bench.
Having started the season so well alongside Mooy, it was Billing's ability to both create from deep while protecting the defence that saw him get the nod. While there's no question Hogg is the best defensive option and Williams is the best all-rounder, it would be foolish to think that Billing lacks the potential to be better than both. His innate ability on the ball is fantastic to watch when at his best, with his long passing, strikes from range and physical approach to defending all positives under David Wagner and the style of football he wishes to play.
That said, however, at his age - still just 21 - it's understandable that his form isn't yet the most consistent, with lots still to be learnt before Huddersfield see the complete package. Not a criticism, exactly, it's only natural for a young player still to nail down a regular starting berth to have peaks and troughs in form, and it's up for the manager to anticipate when it's best to use them to benefit the team most. In matches where Huddersfield have either had the lions share of possession or the majority of the action has been on the floor, Billing has flourished, showcasing his ability without fault, showing his composure and class in the middle areas by using the ball intelligently and keeping the Huddersfield attack well fuelled.
Where his struggled, however, is in more physical encounters, and matches in which the opposition plays a less desirable brand of the game, often playing long, or trying to play over the top from deep areas. These types of games - the types in which the likes of Hogg actually tend to be most at home - require a better temperament and level of patience than Billing currently has, and he ends up rushing in possession and giving the ball away as a consequence, which quickly gets fans backs up. It's understandable though, that when a match is already disjointed the last thing you want is for a player to contribute to that, but there needs to be an appreciation that Billing only acts out (for want of a better word) when the game isn't being played in the right way. That will take maturity, and maturity takes time.
In truth, when compared directly against his contemporaries - those being other central midfielders aged 21 and under playing in the Premier League with some regularity - Billing doesn't actually look out of place in the slightest. Lined up with Wilfred Ndidi, Tom Davies, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Harry Winks, there isn't much difference in the type of statistics those players are posting per 90-minutes. Defensively, only Wilfred Ndidi posts significantly better tackles won figures, which makes sense given the role he plays for Leicester, while Harry Winks makes the most blocks and clearances. All five players intercept the ball at an almost identical rate, while Billing is booked with slightly more regularity than the rest.
With the ball, Billing tends to play longer passes on average than the rest, which does have a negative effect on his comparative completion rates. That said, though, his ability to see the more difficult pass and attempt it shouldn't be seen as a negative, as that's usually the type of switch that allows Town to catch the opposition unawares and creep in behind them. Billing wins more take-on's than anyone other than Loftus-Cheek, and creates the third most scoring opportunities, which isn't bad for someone who plays as deep as he does. He shoots fewer times than everyone but Harry Winks, which does show some discipline given his cannon of a boot, and also loses fewer tackles than anyone but Loftus-Cheek, which does suggest any talk of him being lightweight is somewhat wide of the mark.
It's a similar story when he's compared against Mooy, Hogg and Williams - he's not as impressive as the Australian going forward and not as solid at the back as the Englishman, being caught somewhere in between with the German-American - which may lend credence to his need to specialise. While it's important to remain multi-faceted, he wants to be careful to avoid any confusion over what he brings to the side, which can happen to players who don't have an obvious niche. There should be no concern over his development, as Huddersfield are likely the best possible place for him with a coach like Wagner in charge, but he should be aiming to make a starting position his within the next season or two.
A recent call-up to the Danish u-21 side, his profile is on the rise now he's a Premier League player, and that will only increase the scrutiny on his performances. As long as he matches his level of effort and commitment to his clear abundance of natural talent, it's hard to see an eventuality in which Billing doesn't carve out a long career for himself at the highest level. The fact he is in the conversation with three solid players quite definitively in their prime just shows how good he currently is, and helps illustrate just how good he could be in years to come. Around his age, none of Mooy, Hogg or Williams were as complete or highly rated, but with the requisite amount of desire to improve themselves, their careers have reached heights many had never expected them to. By following that example, there's no reason why Philip Billing can't only match their success, but surpass it.
You can follow Raj Bains on Twitter over on @BainsXIII , and his Huddersfield Town book Underdog is being published later in 2017. It is available to order now, with the opportunity to have the name of your choice printed in a fans list at the back of the book. Please visit www.gnbooks.co.uk or call 01274 735056.