Huddersfield Town’s evolution of their playing squad in the summer threatened to leave Naby Sarr behind.
Carlos Corberan preferred the two-man axis of Levi Colwill and Matty Pearson in Town’s first competitive fixture of the season against Sheffield Wednesday. Sarr was an unused substitute, with Colwill offered a first competitive outing in the League Cup.
An evolution of Huddersfield’s defence was needed. They shipped 71 goals last season and were, comfortably, the worst defensive side in the Championship. Sarr remains the only centre-back that featured regularly last season in contention now.
A Covid outbreak has forced Corberan to shuffle his pack, ditch 4-3-3 due to a shortage of options at left-back and play a three-man defensive unit. As a result of that, Sarr has come into the heart of defence and played exceptionally well.
The graphic below outlines the impressive numbers (as per Wyscout) he’s posted in the Championship, having played every minute of Huddersfield’s league campaign so far:
Huddersfield, on the whole, have become more solid defensively over the summer. Yes, they shipped five goals against Fulham last week and that performance had 2020/21 written all over it. However, the three outings either side of that have been better and it’s worth remembering that the Londoners will beat better sides than Huddersfield by a similar scoreline this season.
Sarr’s stats make impressive reading, too. The 28-year-old has won 82% of his defensive duels in total, which included six from six in the opening day draw with Derby County, a fixture the centre-back also scored in.
As Huddersfield put a 5-1 defeat to Fulham behind them, Sarr produced a Man of the Match display in the win against Preston.
He made seven of his 15 interceptions in that game, as well as seven of his clearances; one of which was on the goal line, denying Ched Evans the opening goal in the first-half.
That all-action performance on Tuesday also saw Sarr commit his only foul of the season (a stretched tackle on Evans), earning him a yellow card in the process.
In possession, Sarr has been brave and effective. He’s attempted 48 forward passes at a success rate of 77.1%, whilst accruing a total pass completion of 87.7%.
The former Charlton Athletic man offers a threat from set-pieces, too, which is going to be invaluable for Town, who now have the weapon of Sorba Thomas’ delivery. That pair combined to secure Huddersfield a point on the opening day against Derby.
That goal and Sarr’s performance against Preston have contributed heavily to Huddersfield posting four points on the board from the opening three fixtures of the season.
It’s remarkable, then, to consider that had all been well in the Huddersfield camp, Sarr probably wouldn’t have even started against Derby.
However, what Sarr has managed to do is step into the side, in an alternative formation, and produce high-quality numbers across the board. Even if Huddersfield revert to 4-3-3 and Colwill-Pearson, Corberan now has the depth and quality to turn to different defensive set-ups in a long campaign. That wasn’t the case when Town capitulated time after time last season.
Sarr deserves enormous credit for elevating his performance and providing that much-needed competition for places.