Marcelo Bielsa hails Leeds United return of qualities 'difficult to find' for Arsenal clash

MARCELO BIELSA says Leeds United will welcome back a defensive midfielder with qualities that are difficult to find with the return of England international Kalvin Phillips for Sunday's clash against Arsenal.

Friday, 20th November 2020, 4:37 pm
Updated Friday, 20th November 2020, 5:10 pm

Phillips has missed United's last three games with a shoulder injury picked up in last month's 1-0 reverse at home to Wolves but the 24-year-old is back fit for Sunday's Premier League showdown against the Gunners with Bielsa revealing that the midfielder will probably start.

Without him, Leeds still managed to record a hugely impressive 3-0 success at Aston Villa but it was a different story in United's final two games before the international break which both ended in 4-1 defeats at home to Leicester City and away at Crystal Palace.

Those reverses have left Leeds 15th ahead of their first game back after the two-week international break against Mikel Arteta's 11th-placed Gunners.

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DOUBLE BOOST: Leeds United's record signing Rodrigo, left, and England international Kalvin Phillips, right, are both back for Sunday's Premier League clash against Arsenal at Elland Road. Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

Leeds will also welcome back record signing Rodrigo from his coronavirus isolation though Whites head coach Bielsa has been hit with a new injury blow with playmaker Pablo Hernandez suffering a muscle injury.

Hernandez now joins Diego Llorente (groin), Jamie Shackleton (quad) and long-term absentee Adam Forshaw (hip) on the sidelines but England international Phillips is back in business and Bielsa admits the Whites Academy graduate offers attributes that are hard to find.

Bielsa explained: "Without Phillips we played the best game we've played since I’ve been manager (at Villa), but in the same manner Phillips is a player that brings something to the team in every way.

"He is a player with a big capacity to recover the ball. He's a midfielder who is able to find passes which are not normal for someone.

"To give an example, it’s difficult to find a defensive midfielder who can give a pass like Phillips gave (Jack) Harrison in the first game of the season against Liverpool.

"That kind of pass, an offensive midfielder is more likely to give to you. It's very difficult to find it in a defensive midfielder."

Phillips has made huge strides in Bielsa's two and a half years in charge with the Yorkshireman making the Whites deep lying midfielder position his own and consequently called up to the England squad for the first time in August.

Phillips already has four caps to his name but modest Bielsa says the midfielder's progress is down to the player himself.

"Phillips is a player who usually plays," said Bielsa.

"The players who play regularly, it's always important to count on them.

"The evolution of Phillips is a constant one, not due to what I’m proposing, but because he has a lot of capacity to analyse and also criticise himself.

"He finds what he needs to improve and correct in his game. And he does this by himself."

Asked if Phillips would now be fit enough to start against Arsenal, Bielsa said: "It's probable. I can't guarantee it - but it is probable. It is less likely that Rodrigo will start."

Explaining the latest situation with Llorente, who has yet to feature for Leeds having picked up a groin injury on international duty with Spain - Bielsa said: "What happened with Llorente is that he was injured and recovered.

"He then had a relapse in the first training session back.

"He is now cured but because of the relapse he is being given extra time to fully get back to be sure."

Bielsa did not mention Gjanni Alioski who left the North Macedonia international camp early after experiencing a swollen hamstring.

His departure from the squad was only thought to be precautionary with Alioski having already helped North Macedonia qualify for next summer's Euros.

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Thank you Laura Collins