Huddersfield Town v Everton – Naby Sarr senses more solidity in Terriers’ defence

To an aspiring football coach from Valencia, the man who led Carlos Corberan’s local team to a European Cup final and two La Ligas was always likely to be a hero.

Trademarks of any Rafael Benitez team is solidity and organisation, two things missing from Corberan’s first Huddersfield Town team last season, but areas he appears to be rectifying ahead of tonight’s League Cup second round game at home to Benitez’s Everton.

Corberan has carried out a complete revamp of the worst defence in last season’s Championship, replacing every centre-back bar Naby Sarr, who played more minutes than any Terrier in the campaign and is yet to miss one in the league in 2021-22.

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“We feel a lot more solid on the pitch and all the players who were here last season feel the same,” says Sarr. “It’s something we can build on and if we can stay like this we’re always going to create chances because we have good players up front.”

NEEDED IMPROVEMENT: Huddersfield Town centre-back Naby Sarr has been encouraged by the Terriers’ defensive displays in the early part of the season. Picture: Getty Images

Sarr was an unused substitute when Huddersfield started their season with a clean sheet and penalty shoot-out win in the League Cup which set the marker for what was to come.

“In the game against Sheffield Wednesday there were many minutes when I was thinking we were controlling the game, creating good chances, making a good high press and being solid when we needed to,” recalls Corberan.

“We didn’t score and they didn’t either but I saw a lot of personality in the penalties.

“It was very important to be solid in defence. You can only do that when you have solidarity on the pitch.

HEAD COACH: Huddersfield Town's Carlos Corberan. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

“Sarr was one of the most important players last season and the minutes he played show that.

“He was our left-footed centre-back. Now we also have (Levi) Colwill but we were thinking he has things to develop (the on-loan Chelsea centre-back is only 18). It’s really important we have competition.

“Last season was a good experience to help him (Sarr) improve as a defender. He’s a very nice guy who’s always thinking about his team-mates.”

Sarr and his colleagues have worked hard at Canalside to bring about that improvement.

OPPOSTION: Everton manager Rafael Benitez. Picture: Getty Images.

“We can play three or four at the back,” he says. “Last season we played 4-3-3 a lot of the time and we’ve had to work on different things to improve.

“We’ve had some additions to the squad so we’ve had to work on everything again to create partnerships.

“Playing a back three needs a lot of work because it’s different tactically. We work hard in the week to be professional on the details. The ideas stay the same whatever the personnel is so you just have to be really focused on knowing what your job is.

“The confidence is starting to build up. We have to build on this.”

Consecutive and hard-fought wins over Preston North End and Sheffield United have built momentum and resilience which will be needed after Pipa, their right-back and arguably best player, was ruled out for three months because he is having surgery today.

“It was the only way to address the problem he had in his hip,” argues Corberan. “The medical team were trying to solve the situation without surgery (since March) but his problem is not getting better as we had hoped.”

With the platform apparently laid, the next challenge for Huddersfield is to pack more punch and Daniel Sinani, signed on loan from Norwich City to provide much-needed creativity, will make his full debut tonight.

“We want to be brave with the ball,” says Corberan.

“It’s a balance because the team hasn’t shown the attacking threat yet that we want but sometimes when you focus more on playing better, you compete worse. We need to find a way to play well and compete well.

“Sinani is different in terms of the qualities he has. He can give us good attacking options. It will be the first time he’s played in England and some players feel the difference more than others but he has experience in international football.

“I hope he can improve his relationship with his team-mates and help the team to win.”

Corberan bought VHS videos of Benitez’s training sessions but has never met the first Spanish coach to be successful in English football.

“When I was starting to be a coach and playing third division in Spain I was inspired by people like Rafa Benitez,” says Corberan.

“He made a small revolution in the dynamic of training and that’s why people started to follow him. Then people never integrated physical and tactical work but one thing Rafa and Paco (Ayesteran, his assistant) did was that.”

But the biggest foundation of any Benitez team is always defensive.

Belatedly, Corberan is starting to build his.

Last six games: Huddersfield Town WWLDDL; Everton DWLWLD

Referee: M Donohue (Greater Manchester)

Last time: Huddersfield Town 0 Everton 1, January 29, 2019, Premier League.