Leeds United's Mr Irreplaceable, why Jamie Shackleton caught the eye against Watford and Adam Forshaw's philosophy
Kalvin Phillips is the one Leeds United player for whom there is no direct replacement, it’s been proven over the last two seasons.
We have plenty of wingers and centre-backs, all good in their own right and you would add that Raphinha is capable of something extra when he’s on song but Phillips, in that position, is just so important for the way we play.
With our movement and the speed of our attack, it’s vital to have his strength in the midfield, he’s our insurance policy and he does that better than anyone else.
As soon as he hits one or two stray passes we think he’s not having his best game, simply because his standards are so high and he’s been so consistent for such a long time.
Everyone has slight off days and he maybe wasn’t at his best against West Ham United but I thought he was superb against Watford, reading the game ever so well. He was the hub of that midfield, making everything tick.
His calf strain is a blow for England boss Gareth Southgate. The understanding between Phillips and Declan Rice has been exceptional.
When they first started together they were playing very much in a line straight across the pitch and it just didn’t look right for either. You could see what Southgate was trying to do, giving the attacking players a base to attack from, but that partnership has since developed and they’ve been wonderful. That squareness has gone and they were pivotal at the Euros.
Phillips is one of those who would try and play through a knock or a niggle. In years gone by it would be an injection somewhere and off you go again, which clearly wasn’t good for the players but we all did that.
Sometimes you need to understand the short, medium and long term impact on the players. It’s admirable that they want to play through knocks and it’s the right thing for the player to want to do but I think sometimes someone needs to think in a different way on their behalf.
Before, we only had one or three subs, now you have so many that you can protect them.
Marcelo Bielsa has done that with the likes of Raphinha, protecting him for his own good so you lose him for a few minutes at the end of a game instead of a few months.
You need your best players on the pitch as often as humanly possible. In Raphinha’s case, having him on one side scaring a full-back is terrific but now we have Daniel James scaring the life out of the other one.
What you’re seeing from James now is why we spent £25m and why Bielsa was so keen on getting him in. His acceleration is superb.
I think it’s a given that he’s got the right character, otherwise he wouldn’t have come. He knows what he has to do, works extremely hard for the team going forward and defending. With the ball against Watford he was getting better and better.
He wasn’t alone in catching the eye.
Diego Llorente was huge. Sometimes his passing forward doesn’t work out but when it does, more often than not, we’re in the final third and we’re off. Whether it was a straight ball, a diagonal ball or the don’t-watch-the-eyes-ball drilled to the feet of a striker, I thought he passed it particularly well. Liam Cooper alongside him was really good.
It was clear you had to stop their dangermen, Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis from counter-attacking but getting the other side to push them back to where they didn’t want to play was also key. No one got hold of Jamie Shackleton all game and Sarr was anonymous, thanks to Firpo.
All of that has to be tempered with the fact that Watford were really poor, the worst I’ve seen at Elland Road for a good while.
Before the game I was trying to look at this as the start of a four-game block, but you take every single positive you can and it was vital we got that win.
We were joined on LUTV commentary duty by Adam Forshaw and he said the feeling in the squad was calmness and confidence and that if they kept doing the right thing it would come.
The only downside was us not scoring three or four to give it the right scoreline.
As a character there’s none better than Forshaw. There’s no doubt the last two years have been difficult for him but he will have handled it in the best way. He’s a great pro’, he wants to get out there and play. He’s very philosophical about this current injury because it’s not unexpected, he knows he’s been out for such a long time, but he’s delighted that the hip problem seems to be completely banished. That’s the most important thing for him.
He’s got a niggle, he’ll hopefully be back after the international break and although he did a great job with us on commentary, we’d much rather he was down there on the pitch and we could talk about him from a distance.
Hopefully that will be the case soon.