LEEDS UNITED midfielder Kalvin Phillips is feeling the benefits of eating better – if not always enjoying the sacrifices – after he was advised to shape up by Whites coach Thomas Christiansen. Phil Hay reports.
A prime reason for Leeds United’s stoic support of Thomas Christiansen has been their appreciation of his attention to detail. The club’s board are feeling the creep of bad results but as managing director Angus Kinnear made clear this week, Christiansen’s diligence as head coach is buying him time.
Kinnear pointed to the Dane’s use of analytics, conditioning work and nutritional advances as evidence of his underlying suitability for the job, despite a succession of scorelines to the contrary, and Kalvin Phillips is an example of the push for excellence which Leeds still trust Christiansen to front.
The midfielder was told by Christiansen at the start of pre-season to shed some weight, lose some body fat and feel the benefit of a leaner, fitter frame. Phillips, 21, admitted that prior to their conversation he was prone to “chocolate cake after Sunday dinner”.
Football no longer allows for that and Leeds recently addressed the matter of nutritional intake by hiring a new chef.
“It’s much better,” said Pontus Jansson in September. “Recovery in this league it’s really important and food is one thing to help you recover well.”
Leeds’ current form – six points taken from a possible 27 – could call into question what the fine details of preparation are achieving but at his best under Christiansen, Phillips has never played better. Five goals and one assist is a sizeable improvement not only on last season but on his career as a whole. It figures that his faith in Christiansen remains intact at a time when United’s head coach is under the cosh.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” Phillips said. “Physically I’m quite big so I’ve got quite a bit of body fat. He (Christiansen) tried to make me slim down so I could be quicker and a little bit sharper.
“It’s hard because you love a chocolate cake after Sunday dinner but you’ve got to nip these things in the bud. I’ve started eating a lot healthier. In the first couple of weeks I felt a bit drained but by cutting down on certain things I’ve felt the benefit. You can see that in my performances.”
It’s hard because you love a chocolate cake after Sunday dinner but you’ve got to nip these things in the bud. I’ve started eating a lot healthier.Leeds United midfielder, Kalvin Phillips
Phillips has been like the entire squad this season; up and down in extended patches. His brace opened the season with a 3-2 win at Bolton Wanderers – doubling his tally of career goals at a stroke – and he scored four times during Leeds’ run to the top of the Championship in September.
The weeks since have been largely barren for him and the club, though his novel shift to number 10 against Bristol City helped yield a 3-0 win at Ashton Gate last month. After losing to Brentford before the international break, Christiansen stands on a run of seven defeats from nine games. Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough come next at Elland Road tomorrow.
Switches in personnel and minor tactical tweaks by Christiansen have so far failed to head a bad run off. “Obviously you feel for him because he’s working as hard as he can to get the results we need,” Phillips said. “I just think the last few games have been about little lapses in concentration.
“At Brentford I thought we were the better team throughout the second half. We looked like we were going to win it and it was lapses of concentration that cost us. In the Championship if you lose concentration the opposition score goals. I’ve said it about five times now but we’ve got to cut it out.
“We all believe in (Christiansen). From the get-go we started very well this season, after what he’d worked on in pre-season. This is a bad run of results now but we have to keep pushing.”
Christiansen and his players were almost immune from criticism in the first two months of the season. Since then there has been plenty of it, and some directed at others within the club.
Phillips claimed the reaction to United’s form was excessive. “We take it on the chin and we know we’ve had a couple of bad results but sometimes people over-exaggerate a little bit,” he said.
“It’s a bad run of games but if we’d started with a bad run of games and then gone on the run we had at the beginning of the season, everyone would be happy. It’s football and it’s the kind of thing people look at. We can’t let it get to us.
“I’m always confident. There’s no point being down about stuff because there are a lot bigger things outside of football that people are going through. Being confident gives you a chance of being a better player.” One good day, he claimed, could turn the form on it’s head. “If we get a good result (tomorrow) I think it sets a good base for progressing.”
Middlesbrough and Monk were talking in similar terms a few weeks ago; 13th in the Championship before three straight wins acted as a slingshot into the top six. There is renewed optimism at the Riverside, though Monk will encounter a hostile crowd at Elland Road, the legacy of his resignation as Leeds’ head coach in May.
Phillips was more cordial about Monk’s 12 months in charge, describing last season as a “good year.” “It was the first year in a while where we put ourselves on the map as a really good team in the Championship,” Phillips said.
“We’ve done that this season as well. We just need to keep going.” Asked if promotion was a realistic aim under Christiansen, Phillips replied: “That’s our goal. We won’t any less than that and if we do we’ll be very, very disappointed, but we’ve got enough talent to be in the top six.”
Monk had a reputation for minimising risks during his time at Leeds; a coach whose team liked to feel their way into games. United were beaten at home by those tactics in recent matches against Reading and Derby County and Phillips warned that Boro would set out to quell the threat of Christiansen’s side and quieten an expected crowd of 34,000, a scenario which Monk has seen work to the advantage of visiting teams at Elland Road.
“Since we’ve gone on this bad run that’s what every team’s come and done,” Phillips said. “They’ve tried to frustrate us because there’s always big pressure playing at Elland Road. But if we get the goals, it doesn’t matter. You always want to get one over an old manager but we look at it as another game coming.”