Kalvin Phillips and Leeds United continue Premier League learning curve with Burnley next

The Whites take on Burnley looking to bounce back in the Premier League.

Saturday, 26th December 2020, 6:00 am

There is no-one it could have or would have hurt more to be substituted during the half-time interval at Old Trafford than Kalvin Phillips.

As a local boy the midfielder knows how much a game against Manchester United means to the people of West Yorkshire.

For the England international, Leeds United’s 6-2 defeat to the Red Devils over the Pennines will add to the steep learning curve that he and the club as a whole are currently on.

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Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips. Pic: Getty

Questions were asked of Marcelo Bielsa and his outfit in the aftermath of defeat, with prods of naivety made in their general direction.

Some posed questions over the Whites style, others wondered if Bielsa would changed.

The Argentine has since responded – it is a categorical no. It is one way and one way only for Leeds. Plan A.

It is easy to forget that amongst all of the outside noise that Leeds are just 14 games into their first Premier League campaign for 16 years.

Most players, not all, are plying their trade in the top flight for the very first time and being led by a coach who, for all his experience, has never managed in the division.

Bielsa is a big believer in taking lessons from each game, and once the dissenting voices had quietened from a chastening afternoon in Lancashire the analysis quietly began.

Phillips has suffered worse humiliation before, having been taken off after just 20 minutes twice in the Argentine’s first season at the club.

The 25-year-old, though, will have been left dwelling on the 45 minutes of madness he took part in at Old Trafford more than any other he has played in recent seasons.

It has been a whirlwind few months for the Thorp Arch academy graduate, who received a Three Lions call-up even before making his Premier League bow in September.

There have been good days and bad, with last Sunday filed under the latter, but he knows more than anyone about taking the lessons from the difficult moments when they arise.

He is, after all, still learning and processing all of the information gathered from each passing minute in the Premier League, having made the leap up in quality just like everyone else at Elland Road.

“The standard is obviously a lot better, compared to the Championship it isn’t quite as frantic,” Phillips said recently.

“Teams often sit back in the Premier League and will give you a little bit of time on the ball, which for us as a team it works better.

“Even me individually it’s better because I love time on the ball to work passes and find my team-mates. I think that’s the one difference from the Championship to the Premier League.

“Once it gets into the final third it steps up another level. Going to Liverpool in the first game, it’s not going to get much harder than the front three they’ve got and how they pass the ball.

“I think the main thing is the final third, or defending third, is how quickly players move the ball.”

Phillips could have made the move to the Premier League a year earlier that United’s promotion transpired.

Aston Villa came knocking at the door but he swiftly shut out the advances of Dean Smith’s men, opting to be patient and bide his time to get there with his hometown club.

A choice which has been vindicated. “Kalvin chose this way and it has changed his career. He has shown what a player he is,” Victor Orta told the YEP last month.

“For me the most important thing about Kalvin is he still hasn’t arrived at his ceiling. He can continue to grow and we feel really proud he decided to stay with us even though he had a lot of offers from the Premier League. Now we arrived together. He’s shown his commitment to try to grow and believe in an international coach like Marcelo.

“He [Bielsa] has a lot of experience in this important period in how to make or break a player. We can talk about 40 or 50 players he has changed the career [of].”

Phillips knows that it is Bielsa’s way or no way at Thorp Arch. He bought into turning himself into a defensive midfielder upon Bielsa’s arrival over two years ago and now sits in front of United’s back four as one of the best in his position in the country.

When he was subbed early in the Championship he took on board the message, now the Premier League is offering him more insight into the player he can become.

If history is anything to go by, his performance and consequent substitution against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will stand him in good stead once the pain of defeat subsides and he takes to the pitch against Burnley tomorrow.

That’s the beauty of football, there is always another game.

Phillips has more positives than negatives against his name since his step up into the top flight, earning plaudits across the board for his style and commitment.

“It’s the way that I play,” Phillips added.

“I look easy on the eye. I’m very relaxed.

“A lot of people ask me why I’m so relaxed when there are players close to me who could take the ball.

“It’s just the way that I play. I’ve always played like that so it is hard to explain why.

“Obviously it is a good thing because I get credit for it.”