Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa's technical analysis of Kalvin Phillips and why you shouldn't make Mateusz Klich angry
It took Kalvin Phillips a full game to return to his ‘real’ level for Leeds United, after three games out of the first team through suspension.
The defensive midfielder, who has continued to earn rave reviews this season and secured his status as a Premier League player in waiting, sat out United’s win over Millwall and the defeats by Wigan and Nottingham Forest.
During his absence he made an appearance for the Leeds Under-23s against Derby County, before a return in the 1-1 draw at Brentford, when he put in a performance lauded by many and looked, perhaps to the untrained eye, like the rest had done him good.
The technical analysis his head coach Marcelo Bielsa detailed this week told a different story and gave an insight into what it is exactly the Leeds coaching staff are expecting from Phillips.
Bielsa said the three-game break had a ‘worsening effect’ on the midfielder.
“He was out for three matches,” said Bielsa.
“He played the match with the Under-23s, technically he was very good. The attitude he played with was excellent and he had problems in co-ordination, skill, agility.
“In the match against Brentford, he had few opportunities to touch the ball to organise the play, just from minute 30 to minute 45 he was in contact, the rest of the match [he was] not.
“He had good recoveries when the play was in front of him.
“The player he faced, 14 [Josh Dasilva] was a number eight, not offensive like the playmaker he is used to facing, like most of the playmakers of our opponents and he had problems facing this player when he changed direction with the ball.
“Those two situations, little contact with the ball to build the attack and a lack of agility to adapt in defence in the change of direction of the opponent are linked with the situation that he was out three matches.”
There was little cause for concern for Bielsa however, because a little rust is to be expected when a player doesn’t play and Phillips still made a positive contribution to Leeds’ renewed defensive solidity against such a potent attacking side as the Bees.
“He lost a footballistic level, as is natural,” said the Argentine.
“You can recover some things playing. Even this description, he had a positive impact in the match against Brentford for us, because he really knows how to cover in defence, our players.”
Having shaken the rust off, Phillips was back at his best in the 1-0 win over Bristol City on Saturday and the data proved it.
He was dominant against the Robins’ attacking players and was once again sprinting around the pitch at his usual rate of knots, for his usual number of repetitions, Bielsa revealed.
“He recovered his real level in the last match where he has defended against players who were attackers or playmakers, like the number 20 [Jamie Paterson] and there he had more impact in defence against them, more efficience,” said Bielsa.
“For you to know that what I am saying is true, normally Phillips makes double or triple the number of movements of maximum speed than our centre-backs.
“In the match against Brentford he didn’t do double or triple, he did just half. But in the last match he came back to his normal values.”
His physical output was proof that his absence, the result of a rash tackle on QPR’s Geoff Cameron that earned him a straight red card, hindered Phillips and did not help him.
“The fact that he didn’t play three matches, the situation made him worse,” said Bielsa.
“After, when he started to play, the situation improved him.
“But those conclusions I am giving are not my point of view it is a description of the play of Kalvin on the pitch – not just an opinion, a description.”
Bielsa says there are players who benefit from playing every week and players who suffer from it.
On the evidence the head coach put before the press on Thursday afternoon at Thorp Arch, Phillips would appear to be the former and not the latter.
And another of his team-mates, Leeds United’s only ever-present Championship starter under Bielsa, is similar.
Mateusz Klich has started 81 consecutive league games, including both legs of last season’s play-off semi-final, yet still continues to sprint up and down the pitch as quickly and as often as ever, in his box-to-box midfielder role.
“According to which kind of player, there are some players who when they have to do a lot of effort in a row, it makes them weak,” said Bielsa.
“The accumulation of matches makes them weak and other players are improved for this.
“Klich is a player who is physically gifted.
“The values of Klich, he cannot do better.
“He is a player who runs most, the player who makes most intense movements and a player who makes most movements at maximum speed.
“His values are linked to how he prepares mentally. This is the fact that makes him run.”
Bielsa concluded his insight with a piece of helpful advice for Leeds United and Klich’s future opponents.
“The more angry he is the more he runs,” he said.
Don’t make Klich angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.