One of Huddersfield Town’s shining lights in an otherwise dismal 2018/19 Premier League campaign was Karlan Grant. The winger, who is also capable of playing up front, joined the Terriers from Charlton Athletic in January last year. He put in some good performances and managed to score four times for the Terriers, including a goal against Arsenal and a brace at West Ham United.
This campaign has followed a slightly similar theme. Although they’re not bottom of the league this term, the Yorkshire side has endured a season of struggle. They sit just three points above the relegation zone. However, they do have one of the division’s top performers in Grant. He’s the fourth top scorer in the league, despite playing most of his games out on the left side.
The 22-year-old’s goals have been vital in the Terriers’ gradual climb from 24th to 18th under Danny Cowley, who was appointed back in September. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of his displays in a Town shirt this campaign.
Grant is naturally a striker, but he’s often been deployed as an inside forward off the left-hand side within Cowley’s tactics. He’s played 18 times on the left side, usually in a 4-2-3-1 system, but he’s also proven that he can operate as a wide forward in a 4-3-3. Grant has started 15 games as a striker as well. He’s netted six goals as a striker, and eight playing off the left. This shows his flexibility and ability to provide a similar goal threat from both roles, which makes him a bigger asset to Huddersfield’s team. Overall, he’s managed 0.44 goals per 90 minutes this season.
Grant’s heatmap shows that he spends a lot of time out on the left wing towards the touchline. This is because when the Terriers have possession, he’ll often try and stretch the full-back by dragging him out wide. He’ll do this even if the ball is on the opposite side, like in the example below.
By taking up these positions, he forces the opposing full-back or wing-back to make a tough decision. If they follow Grant out wide, the team could lose its horizontal compactness. In that case, Huddersfield would be able to exploit the space he’s created in the centre by dragging his opponent out wide. However, if the full-back tucks in narrowly and Huddersfield decide to switch the play to Grant, he’ll have more space to run towards goal.
Grant’s heatmap also shows that he’s been very active in the inside left channel or half-space. This is because his job is to cut inside and provide a direct goal threat with his stronger right foot.
When Grant has possession on the left flank, his immediate objective is to try and get into the area by using his pace and dribbling ability to beat opposing full-backs. He likes to receive the ball in wide areas and face the full-back in a one versus one scenario.
In the image above, he retained his wide position when Huddersfield had the ball. This stretched the Hull City defence and created a gap between the right-sided centre back and right-back. When he received possession, getting the ball onto his right foot and having a shot at goal was the only thing on his mind.
He showed his dribbling ability by slightly dropping his left shoulder as if he was going to take the ball down the outside, before quickly moving it past the defender’s inside shoulder. Because of this, the Hull defender got his legs in a tangle and Grant knocked it past him. The back four was stretched as the former Charlton man retained his width, so he had space to get a shot off with his right foot. This went in via a deflection.
Another way Grant manages to beat his men in a one versus one is by slowing down and inviting them to dive in. If the defender tries to make a tackle, Grant simply takes the ball past them. A lot of his success in taking people on comes from waiting for the defender to make the move, before quickly shifting the ball past them and riding the challenge.
The location of Grant’s dribbles in the final third further backs up the point that he likes to cut inside. Most of his dangerous dribbles that lead to a goal or shot have come from the left half-space.
Movement and Finishing
We know Grant is good at creating opportunities for himself, but he’s also efficient and clinical in front of goal. He’s outperforming his expected goals, netting 16 times from an xG of 13.21. Despite taking a lot of shots, Grant doesn’t just blindly shoot for the sake of it when his teammates are in better positions. The fact that he averages 0.14 xG per shot backs that up. Out of all the shots he’s taken, 48.42% of them have been on target. That puts him sixth out of all wingers in the league, and 12th out of all strikers.
As you can see, Grant is excellent at finding the bottom right corner of the net. Once he’s cut inside onto his stronger right foot, he’s very capable of opening his body up and picking out the far corner.
Another strength he has is being able to find space and generate power on a strike in a crowded area.
In the example above, Grant was up against Wigan Athletic defender Nathan Byrne. Again, he managed to work a bit of space for himself to get a shot away in trademark fashion: slowing the play down, dropping the left shoulder and making Byrne commit before knocking the ball slightly to the right. This bought him a tiny amount of space and a millisecond to get a snapshot away.
The power he managed to generate on the strike from such a small run-up was quite remarkable, and he rifled the ball into the top left corner.
As well as being able to open his body up and curl an effort into the far corner, Grant can also smash efforts towards the near post with power. His unpredictability makes it hard for goalkeepers to guess which kind of shot he’ll go for.
Another area of the game where Grant excels is his ability to run in behind defences. In the image below, he’s starting in a wide position, expecting Trevoh Chalobah to slot him through.
However, instead of receiving the ball in a wider area, Grant arched his run to go in behind his marker on his inside shoulder. The ball from the midfielder is well-weighted, and the angle that he’s running onto it means he receives the pass on his stronger right foot.
Below is another example of the former Crawley Town loanee cleverly arching his run to move into space behind a defence whilst staying onside.
On this occasion, Grant started from a central position and ran across the backline into a wider position. This dragged central defender Ashley Williams wide, and the winger managed to receive the ball on the half-turn, swivel and slam it into the bottom right corner.
These arching runs seem to be telepathic between Grant and the player in possession, so it’s been worked on at the training ground by Danny Cowley.
Link up play and creativity
Huddersfield plays with width and looks to create numerical superiority in wide areas, which Grant is often at the heart of. In particular, he combines well with left-back Harry Toffolo and midfielders Lewis O’Brien and Emile Smith-Rowe.
He has good spatial awareness and takes up the right positions on the pitch, depending on where his teammates are. For example, if Toffolo is running with the ball into the half-space, Grant will push out wide, dragging the opposition full-back with him. That creates space for Toffolo to continue to run, exploiting the space left by the full-back marking Grant.
This principle was seen in action below.
Defensive midfielder Lewis O’Brien was in possession, and Grant dropped deep and came right to the touchline to receive the ball from him. This dragged out Bristol City’s wing-back Jack Hunt, who left a lot of space in behind to be exploited. Toffolo obliged and made a bursting underlapping run into the half-space.
Grant played the ball to Toffolo first time after O’Brien passed it to him. These movements were all synchronised, and they all displayed their footballing intelligence by knowing what runs to make at the correct time.
Grant averages 21.29 passes and 5.43 successful attacking actions per 90 minutes. Both of these metrics show that he’s very much involved in the build-up of the Terriers’ attacks.
xG chain is a metric for measuring attacking contribution. It assigns the xG value of a shot to every player who was involved in the build-up to it. Grant’s xG chain over the last calendar year (above) shows that he’s involved in lots of movements that lead to shots in high-quality locations.
The analysis will now quickly focus on Grant’s defensive contribution. Earlier, we mentioned how he’s tasked with staying wide when Huddersfield have possession. However, when the opponent has the ball on the flank opposite to Grant, he’s asked to tuck in narrowly.
An area that Grant could improve on is his concentration when he’s having to help out defensively. In the above example, the ball had looped up into the air and Bristol City’s number six (Nathan Baker) was about to win the header. Grant got caught ball watching, and he wasn’t focusing on the opposing player he was supposed to be picking up. The City man makes a run in behind him as he switches off for a split second.
Luckily, Baker didn’t head the ball into the runner’s path. But if he did, Huddersfield would have been in danger due to Grant’s momentary lapse in concentration.
Karlan Grant has been a plus point in a pretty miserable first campaign back in the second tier for Huddersfield. His goals have been so pivotal in helping them keep their heads above water, and they will continue to be when the season resumes. It’s no surprise that with so many goals at the age of 22, Premier League clubs Wolverhampton Wanderers and AFC Bournemouth have been linked with a move for the former Charlton man in the past. It could be hard for Danny Cowley to keep his prize asset this summer.