In 2021, Leeds just haven’t been at the races. They have lost every single game this year and thus, Marcelo Bielsa is starting to feel the pressure.
This United side are still a bustling one full of intensive attacking energy, but they must ensure they get the balance right.
One of the big issues in recent weeks has been defensively. Leeds went through a period where they missed Liam Cooper, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente – all three of the club’s senior centre-halves.
Thus, issues at the back were hardly surprising. Luke Ayling and Pascal Struijk initially tried their best to marshal things and a clean sheet against Burnley typified how solid they can be.
Yet, with Kalvin Phillips part of a defensive trio when they played Crawley and then when he was suspended against Brighton, they floundered and didn’t look up to scratch.
Philips is often the heartbeat of this Leeds team but as Bielsa’s side were knocked out of the FA Cup, he was at fault for one of the goals and gave the ball away 24 times. It was an uncharacteristic showing from someone usually so reliable.
However, he isn’t the problem, something their 1-0 defeat to Brighton showed.
Last month we issued rallying cries that the young Dutchman was finally Premier League ready. In terms of his contributions in a back four, that’s certainly the case.
Yet, two games in a row he has looked out of his depth while playing as a makeshift defensive midfielder.
It was bizarre he played in that role versus Crawley with Phillips playing further back, but he was the only one capable when they took on the Seagulls, predominantly because Leeds failed to sign another midfielder in the summer.
It’s safe to say that decision hasn’t been vindicated. The centre-back was dragged off after just 45 minutes in the FA Cup a fortnight ago, failing to win a single ground duel. For a holding player, that’s an essential part of the game so it speaks volumes about how poor his display was. It also says a lot about Bielsa’s feelings – he was clearly seething inside with how the game went.
Though, it’s not just us that has noticed the youngster’s poor form. Speaking about Struijk this week, Leeds pundit Noel Whelan said:
“I think Struijk looks out of place, playing Kalvin’s role. I’ve got to say I don’t think there’s anyone that can play Kalvin’s role in the team which is worrying for me. When he’s out we don’t seem to have that flow in our game going forward and the discipline in the defensive role.”
For Leeds, this should be a huge concern. Although the Netherlands-born defender has proven himself to be adept among a back four, he has been anything but when pushed further forward.
Consequently, the £2.2m-rated centre-back must be reduced to the bench with immediate effect. He is not good enough to play in Phillips’ position, nor is he good enough to play over Cooper.