Marcelo Bielsa defended his decision to drop Kalvin Phillips for Leeds United’s Easter Monday game at Brentford after a 2-0 loss left the club staring at the play-offs.
Phillips was missing from Bielsa’s starting line-up for only the fourth time this season and looked on from the bench at Griffin Park as Leeds all but surrendered their chance of a top-two finish in the Championship.
The 23-year-old is a contender for United’s player-of-the-year award and was named in the EFL’s team of the year after blossoming under Bielsa but Adam Forshaw took his place against Brentford having replaced Phillips at half-time during Friday’s 2-1 defeat to Wigan Athletic.
Bielsa said he expected Forshaw to prove more “dynamic” against a Brentford side who fielded Neal Maupay up front and relied on support from wingers Sergi Canos and Ollie Watkins.
Maupay struck on the stroke of half-time before Canos’ 62nd-minute finish left Leeds to contemplate the prospect of a play-off campaign.
Bielsa said: “Phillips gives us a physical presence, a defensive presence in the midfield. When the opponent has a creative playmaker who goes with the number nine, or when they play with two number nines, Phillips’ influence in the game increases.
“In a game like this (Brentford) where the number nine played alone and was helped by two wingers, I took the decision to put in Adam Forshaw because he moves more with the ball. He’s more dynamic. His features suit this kind of game more.
“That doesn’t mean Kalvin Phillips couldn’t have played in a game like this and it doesn’t mean Adam Forshaw can’t play against two number nines. But in the second half of the game against Wigan, Forshaw’s performance convinced me and I decided to put him in.”
Phillips has started 40 league games this term and undergone a huge transformation during Bielsa’s year as head coach.
“We all know that Kalvin played many games with very good performances,” Bielsa said. “If we have a look at the player who started the season, what kind of player he was then compared to the kind of player he is now, the evolution is very important.”