Leeds United’s midfield was completely exposed against Norwich City on Saturday evening in the absence of Kalvin Phillips, and he proved to be a big miss.
Leeds’ 23-year-old defensive midfielder has predominantly operated as a central defender in recent weeks to cover for a handful of absentees amid a seemingly endless injury crisis.
The move into central defence has seen him hone in on the defensive quality he has consistently produced this season, with his goalscoring exploits from last season now representing something of a distant memory.
Indeed, Phil Hay has revealed a small sample of statistical information from Phillips’ form this term and pointed towards his lack of involvement in the final-third as an indicator of how significantly his role has changed, as per Yorkshire Evening Post.
Hay wrote: “Phillips will not automatically cure the problems with Leeds’ finishing – the deepness of his position is shown by the fact that having scored seven times last season, he is averaging less than a shot a game and has produced 12 key passes in total.”
The arrival of Bielsa has instigated a transformation in the way Phillips operates in midfield. The fact he scored seven times during the 2017/18 season illuminates the level of freedom he had to burst forward in a box-to-box role, but his current manager has forced him to make a big compromise.
Bielsa has typically asked him to operate in a water-carrier role in-front of the defensive unit, connecting the dots from deep while ensuring that the back-four are well prepared to stifle the opposition.
The positional tweak has seen his attacking influence diminish, with his return of 12 key passes averaging at less than 0.5 per game from his 27 appearances this season, as per WhoScored, while the fact he is yet to find the net under the Argentine speaks for itself.
In a sense, Phillips has been forced to compromise on his quality in the final-third to adapt to Bielsa’s demands, but it’s a compromise which has ultimately enhanced his reputation amongst plenty of supporters at Elland Road.
After watching Norwich tear through Leeds’ midfield on Saturday evening, it will be no great surprise if the 23-year-old is recalled to solidify his defensive unit against Middlesbrough.