'Up there with Fabinho and Kante' - Dominic Matteo on Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips, Jonathan Woodgate's Whites passion and Chelsea clash

When Michael Owen rose to fame it happened quickly, he burst onto the scene and scared people to death but Kalvin Phillips’ development at Leeds United has been a little more natural.

Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 5:43 am
THE STAR - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips is showing he is a top Premier League midfielder, says former Whites and Liverpool defender Dominic Matteo. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

He has been like a project, developing, getting better, growing in experience and in knowledge of the game.

I know he hasn’t had a lot of Premier League experience but he’s flying and was outstanding against Everton. His possession statistics were incredible and he looked so composed.

He’s that good in the position and that important to the club when he plays that he should be paid whatever he wants to keep him here because the issue Leeds might have is holding onto him long term.

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He’s up there with Fabinho and Kante. I would put him at that level now.

He looks like he’s more in control than a lot of players in his position when he’s on the ball, there’s a nice balance to him and the improvement he has made under Marcelo Bielsa is remarkable.

When you have a player who calms things down, puts a foot on the ball, takes a touch or makes a simple pass, it’s massive for Leeds, particularly because they play flat out so often.

I know the attention is on him at the minute but the players around him appreciate what he does for the team and that’s the most important thing.

Local players are so vital around the squad. I remember when we had Alan Smith and, when you have someone who puts everything in for their club, it’s great for everyone.

He’s probably the most important player and, if he’s not playing, Leeds might have a little bit of a struggle.

That position in any team is key; anyone who has had success in the last few years has had a really good sitting midfield player.

People make comparisons between them but he and Declan Rice both have so much potential, they can both fill in at the back, and they’re definites for me in the England squad.

The international recongition Phillips has had is deserved and he’s contributing for Gareth Southgate’s team when he plays too.

I’m really excited about him but I just hope we can keep hold of him for a couple of seasons at least and see lots more performances like the one at Goodison.

It was a brilliant display from the team in general and a great game, one with a great tempo, and Everton played their part.

I was so pleased to see another clean sheet because that consistency is how we’ll get up the league.

In the last two games we’ve been making strides in the right direction, defensively. The clean sheet will have helped the whole squad, Illan Meslier particularly.

He’s another who is growing in stature.

They’ve bounced back fantastically after the two defeats and they’ve been brilliant to watch.

If they can manage games like they have the last two, teams are going to fear playing Leeds.

I spoke to Jonathan Woodgate the other day and he was raving about Phillips, Luke Ayling and the usual suspects.

When he speaks about the improvement in the players and Bielsa you can tell he’s still got the passion for the club and people like Woodgate, early on in their managerial careers, are learning from what Bielsa is doing.

It would be very difficult to replicate what Bielsa does but it’s not uncommon to see young managers take things from the great managers.

After 10 games of Bielsaball in the Premier League, I firmly believe Leeds will stay up and, as for who will go down, I have to stick with what I said at the start of the season – Sheffield United, Fulham and West Brom would be my predictions.

Burnley have a physical presence, Sean Dyche is very shrewd and I can see them getting enough results to get out of it.

At the other end of the table, you have Saturday’s opponents Chelsea.

This could be one of those games with a few goals; both sides go for it.

Defensively, Chelsea are still a work in progress and they’re integrating players. Frank Lampard is building a strong squad; he tries to have a balance so they’re not a pushover. They’ve signed a lot of good players and they have a good work ethic under Lampard and Jody Morris.

Against Leeds, they’ll have to be good defensively because Leeds will put the pressure right on them.

It’s a game to look forward to as a player; there’s history between the clubs and it can be a hard, physical fixture.

People are saying Chelsea might be pushing for the title but the jury is still out a little for me.

Leeds will have to ensure they’re in the right positions early, against fast-paced players, and have the belief that they have the ability to create chances.

They could have had three or four against Everton – I was hoping they would – so there will be opportunities to get at Chelsea and produce another great game.

Dominic Matteo's column in association with Data Facilities.