Two years on from what Marcelo Bielsa called 'fair act of God' Leeds United could use another for Wolves clash

'Sometimes God puts things in the right place' - two years ago today Marcelo Bielsa credited a higher power for everything being right with the Leeds United world.

By Graham Smyth
Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 11:56 am

A Championship game against Birmingham City at Elland Road would have been no more remarkable than any other meeting of two old clubs, had it not been for the date on which it fell in 2019.

This was the game earmarked for Leeds United's centenary, the sporting accompaniement to the pomp and ceremony that came in the days before and after.

Leeds wore a specially designed one-off shirt, the players recreated the wave made famous by the Revie boys and supporters held aloft coloured cards to form a spectacular tifo around Elland Road.

Defeats at Charlton and Millwall in the three weeks prior increased the necessity for a Leeds win - they had dropped to fifth in the table after the controversial loss in south-east London - and the way the game played out was largely typical of that period for the Whites.

They created chances, worked overloads on the flanks, fired in shots that whistled past the posts and forced Lee Camp into action.

Having failed to make their dominance count at the break, the inevitable jitters over the potential to concede against the run of play, were just starting to set in when Jack Harrison nipped onto a loose ball, slid it inside to Kalvin Phillips and he crashed in his first goal of the season.

The significance of a Leeds boy scoring the winner was not lost on Bielsa, who shared a delighted embrace with his midfielder after the game.

FITTING MOMENT - Leeds United supporter Kalvin Phillips scored the winner in the club's centenary game against Birmingham City two years ago today. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“Sometimes God puts things in the right place,” said Bielsa.

“Phillips has continued playing here in the club and now he will stay in the history of the club for this goal.

“It’s a fair act from God.”

Even at that stage of a season that ended in promotion, Phillips looked destined for the Premier League with or without his club.

And at this stage of their second campaign in the top flight, he has taken on an importance far beyond his 2019 status.

Any time the 25-year-old, now an England international, is missing from the Leeds starting line-up, serious problems crop up in the midfield.

Regardless of Bielsa's perennial insistence that an individual's absence cannot be linked to the result, Leeds have lost nine of the 11 Premier League games Phillips has missed since promotion.

At Southampton on Saturday, when Mateusz Klich looked seriously outnumbered and incapable of restoring balance in an alarmingly lop-sided first half, it felt particularly cruel on Leeds, unfair almost, that Phillips was one of six first teamers unavailable to Bielsa as a challenging start to the season continuing with a 1-0 defeat. The calf strain that kept him out of England duty in the international break combined with a hip problem to put him in the stands along with the fatigued Raphinha.

With Leeds players struggling to overcome not only Southampton's formation but their power - Saints men outmuscled visitors to nullify attacking threats and set up camp in the Whites' half - Phillips' physicality was as sorely missed as his ability to receive the ball from defenders and give it to attackers.

At no stage of Bielsa's era have Leeds ever been in need of divine intervention but they could certainly use a little favour from above for the injury crisis to clear up and Phillips to return to his rightful place in the middle of the park.

Negotiations have already begun between the midfielder's representative and Leeds United, on a deal that won't cement him at Elland Road until retirement but will pay him a wage more closely resembling that of a Premier League player of import and protect the club from losing a prize asset for less than his full worth.

In the meantime, Phillips is happy at Leeds and Leeds look happiest when he's in the starting XI. The sooner that can happen, the sooner God or circumstance allows Bielsa to put his main man back in the right place, the happier everyone at Elland Road will be.