Sheffield United v Leeds United: 'I'm too much in love with my players' - and no hiding Marcelo Bielsa's admiration of Kalvin Phillips

ATTACKING midfield, centre-midfield, defensive midfield or centre-back.

Saturday, 1st December 2018, 6:50 am
Updated Saturday, 1st December 2018, 8:20 am
VERSATILE: Kalvin Phillips.

All the same to Kalvin Phillips who is starting to rival Stuart Dallas in the versatility stakes at Leeds United.

Versatility that is delighting Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa who believes Phillips would even thrive as a defender turned into a more offensive player.

Still only 22 years old, Academy graduate Phillips will take in the 117th game of his Whites career in Saturday’s Yorkshire derby at Sheffield United in which Bielsa will have a decision to make as to Phillips’ position.

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Initially starting out as a centre midfielder who often played the holding role, Phillips was then used as a no 10 by former head coach Thomas Christiansen last term and now Bielsa has added another new defensive dimension to the Wortley-born footballer’s bow.

Eyebrows were raised when Phillips lined up as a centre-back under Bielsa, initially as part of a back three and then even in a 4-4-2 for Tuesday night’s 1-0 win against Reading but the 22-year-old has thrived in the new position.

Yet be it in defence, midfield or even further forward, Bielsa believes Phillips has the versatility to thrive in whatever position with the former Wortley Junior a prized asset in the Whites head coach’s squad.

“He is a versatile player and that is a very important skill in modern football,” said Bielsa of Phillips. “If you look at his game last year he played during some games as an offensive midfielder and then he played as a number eight, then he played as a number four, and now he plays as a centre-back.

“If I had to do the same process, but backwards, instead of going from an offensive position to a defensive one, to go from defence to attack, he could play in these different positions with good results.

“This tells a lot about him because usually players lose their versatility when they go back. [Stuart] Dallas, for example, looks more like a full-back than a winger now, just to give an example.”

Phillips himself has previously admitted that Bielsa’s moves to mould him into a centre-back came as a surprise with Phillips openly honest in admitting he still has improvement to make in that position.

Assessing how difficult it was for a centre midfielder to become a centre-back, Bielsa reasoned: “Usually, the defensive midfielder is the third centre-back of the team. So when a defensive midfielder plays as a centre-back he does actions he is used to.

“One thing is to take a decision when you know you have three team-mates behind you, the goalkeeper and the two centre-backs, and another thing is to take a decision knowing you only have one team-mate behind you.

“You see sometimes the defensive midfielders try to recover the ball without being sure they will be able to recover the ball. The centre-back doesn’t take these risks.”

Phillips, though, has looked anything but a risk in the position with the Whites ace possibly United’s player of the season so far and one of the most improved under Bielsa. Bielsa, though, says he is not in a position to assess.

“I’m too much in love with my players so that’s why my opinion is not an objective one,” said the Argentinian head coach.

“Before sleeping, when I imagine we are playing against Liverpool I always think we can beat them. “That’s why the opinion I have of my players is a subjective one.”