Ever since Kalvin Phillips made his debut at Wolves what seems an age ago he has divided opinion, until this season that is. A player who came through the academy and has played in various midfield roles before finding his best positions and roles under Marcelo Bielsa almost five years later.
When the team was announced yesterday there was three potential centre-backs missing. Liam Cooper, Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi, all of whom aren’t expected back this side of Christmas, and some. Phillips was named as the centre-back alongside Pontus Jansson and eyebrows stayed where they were, none would have been raised amongst Leeds United fans. The young midfielder has played in that role, mainly in a three on various occasions this season and looked more than comfortable there every time. In a four it would be an interesting challenge.
He did play in a four in the second half of the Preston North End cup game earlier this season, replacing Conor Shaughnessy in that role after a poor first half. He did get caught out yesterday, as did Pontus Jansson and inevitably Nakhi Wells bagged at Elland Road. Apart from that he had a great game. Aapo Halme was brought on immediately after Matt Smith and between him and Kalvin Phillips they stopped him from making an impact. Phillips has improved in every single aspect of his game under Bielsa, and the signs were there before the Argentine coach had even taken the job.
Phillips returned to pre-season a week before everybody else. The feeling was that after watching the footage of last season Bielsa had made his mid up on players and as contract negotiations began and lasted weeks Phillips was seen at Thorp Arch, working on his fitness, Marcelo Bielsa had clearly seen something he liked. His ability on the ball has improved, his passing range is now evident because he has been given that role, his tackling, fitness, ability in the air and reading of the game are all much improved.
On two occasions Phillips was hooked before half-time but he’s the only player to have started every single game in league and cup under Bielsa and that tells you all you need to know about how highly rated he is. Scouts from the Premier League have apparently been circling and it’s no wonder why. He has struggled, consistency his main issue for me, never a lack of ability and this season, along with others he has improved on that side of his game. There aren’t many players ahead of him in terms of team selection under one of the worlds most famous coaches.