For a long time, even before he helped secure Leeds’ promotion to the Championship in 2020, many people at Elland Road and around the country believed Kalvin Phillips was Premier League quality.
Phillips had been linked with a move to the Premier League well before he proved to be the lynchpin in Leeds United’s Championship winning campaign of 2019/20 with the likes of Aston Villa registering their interest, and it’s no surprise.
Before United made the leap to the Premier League last September, the Whites won over 55% of games where he sat at the base of the midfield in the number six role becoming the fulcrum at the heart of the way Leeds were designed to play under Marcelo Bielsa.
Meanwhile, Leeds lost just 22% of their games when he featured in his preferred role showing his importance to success in the Championship, but now in the Premier League his importance to the Bielsa’s side has become even more pronounced.
In truth, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. If we look at his recent performances in an England shirt and the way he and Declan Rice provide Gareth Southgate’s side with stability in midfield which denies the attacking players in the opposition the ability to shine the way we might expect, and their ability to give the national side a stable base from which they can achieve success, it’s clear Leeds have a special player on their hands at the moment.
One of the countries best performers and an integral part to the best national side in years is unsurprisingly going to be central to Leeds United especially when we consider the high intensity way they play the game always looking to get into a forward gear with the fullbacks pushing high leaving a lot on the number six’s plate to mop up.
In his absence, with no natural replacement due to the long term injury problems faced by Adam Forshaw, the Leeds midfield became an unlocked door, easily walked through. If we look at the 4-1 defeat to Leicester for instance, his absence in this game was keenly felt as it was in others especially against sides adept on the break.
In this contest, the Whites enjoyed their traditionally large portion of possession with the Whites registering 68% of the ball dictating, for the most part, where the game was played. But without him at the base of midfield, Leicester found it easy to hit Leeds on the break exposing the spaces Phillips would often cover with every one else pushing high up the field. This is why Illan Meslier faced 10 shots throughout the game as the Foxes managed a shot under every three minutes when they had possession at their feet.
This shows just how quickly the Foxes were able to move the ball down field and create an attacking opportunity in Phillips’ absence displaying just how leaky Leeds become without the Leeds born midfielder to cover the holes left by onrushing attacking runs.
In terms of his defensive stats, he appears in the top 20% of players in the Premier League for virtually everything barring aerial battles won. He musters 2.8 tackles per 90, over 2 interceptions per game, as well as 1.97 blocks per 90 and 2.17 clearances every game. The first two of these demonstrate his ability to stop teams getting to the back four whilst the latter two depict his ability to get back and support the centre backs with blocks and clearances showing his holistic approach to defence.
His average of 25.79 pressures per 90 is an impressive statistic as well and leaves him in the top 3% of players. This shows how he fits into the way Leeds defend in general helping his teammates press high up the field to win the ball back in dangerous areas – a key part of Bielsa ball and what makes the Whites so captivating to watch.
In attack, he’s also key thanks to his 84% pass completion and the fact he often registers over 50 passes per game linking the Leeds attack together moving the ball from defence to attack swiftly catching sides off guard.
He’s also shown a great level of creativity with an expected assist every five games and 1.97 shot creating actions per game including the five big chances he created last season demonstrating how even from deep his passing range often leads to attacking opportunities for his teammates. Perhaps this is down to the 136 accurate long balls he managed in 2020/21 as one tenth of his 1404 passes moved the ball long and deep enabling the likes of Patrick Bamford to get in behind teams and cause them serious problems.
From this it is clear he is the centre of the Leeds team both literally in terms of his position in the middle of the field but also in terms of what he offers the side in defence and attack. He protects the back four as well as any number six in the competition but when he wins the ball back or is fed it by the defence he can move it into dangerous positions helping quicken up the Leeds attack and devastate opponents.