Leeds academy graduate Kalvin Phillips has been one of Leeds best players since Marcelo Bielsa arrived at the club in June 2018. He has been instrumental to Leeds’ EFL Championship success this season. Since Bielsa’s arrival Leeds fans have dubbed Phillips as “The Yorkshire Pirlo” but why?
This is Kalvin Phillips heat map for the 2019/20 season as we can see Phillips spends most of his time in his own third. The reason Phillips spends so much time in his own third is down to his role, Bielsa usually deploys Leeds in a 4-1-4-1 formation playing Phillips as the deep-lying midfielder just in front of the back four. Due to Phillips versatility, he can play this role well as during build-up play this allows him to drop deep and create a defensive trio almost positioning himself as a ball-playing defender, this therefore means the Leeds fullbacks can push forward.
When Phillips plays in the deep-lying midfielder role, he is the pivot of the Leeds team. This means he really connects the midfield, defence and attack and will commonly initiate attacking movements. When in this role he will be positioned in a central area of the pitch when he’s on the ball, this will mean he may have passing options straight ahead, to his left and to his right. A great example of Phillips being the pivot is when Leeds faced Bristol in a 1-0 win. This picture shows three options: a through ball option to his left, a long ball option to his right and another option to his left being the safer backward option. This gives Phillips lots of options and makes it easier for him to spark an attacking move for Leeds.
The last thing I will address about the heat map is the time he spends out on the left and right side in the opposition’s third of the pitch. This seems like it doesn’t align to his role at first but when you take a look at Bielsa’s system at Leeds, the reason Phillips does spend time in these areas is that Bielsa likes to see his side attack as one. Leeds attack with a lot of width so this means Phillips will join his team mates in wider positions. Occasionally Phillips will get higher up the pitch and win the ball before sending in a cross. This occurred against Bristol and created a goal-scoring chance. This chance was missed.
When we look over all the information I have included we realise that Phillips positioning really does benefit Leeds as he adds defensive solidity which allows full backs to push forward. He also offers a great passing ability and makes the pitch big while he possesses the ball contributing to 5.4 long passes per game, this helps him become a more press resistant player because he attacks with Leeds in a one and makes the pitch bigger for himself and his team mates. He does this by evaluating his passing options to go long or pass short.
One of Phillips strongest attributes is passing, as I alluded to earlier with analysis the 24-year old plays the role of a deep-lying midfielder and is the pivot of Leeds system. Being the pivot of the system means you do have to possess a great passing ability and Kalvin Phillips definitely does. The Leeds player makes 54.6 passes on average per 90, this is 0.8 higher than N’Golo Kante of Chelsea. 85% of these passes are accurate, this includes 5.4 accurate long balls per 90. He makes these to create attacks quick. This tactical board displays what passes Phillips tends to make from his deep-lying midfielder role.
As we can see on the tactical board, Phillips likes to use passes to spread play out wide. He favours the long ball to either Hélder Costa or Jack Harrison. Using the long ball helps initiate attacks at a quicker rate and is probably one of the reasons Kalvin Phillips contributes to 1.9 key passes per game on average. Here is an example of a long ball Phillips used against Hull. This pass is used if Phillips wants to create an attacking move quickly. This is used when Leeds need a goal and are possibly trailing.
The pass above is very effective if Phillips wants to distribute the ball wide to wingers, he uses it quite often to do so. This pass map below gives us an insight into what passes Kalvin Phillips made in a game vs Bristol this season, as we can see he uses a variety of forward and backward passes which end up being long and short. There are very few inaccurate passes as Kalvin Phillips had an 80% successful pass rate this game.
I have mentioned Phillips occasionally making shorter passes to the centre backs or giving the ball to the Leeds fullbacks. The reason he commits to making the shorter passes to the centre backs is to hold on to possession while under pressure from opposition players. By recycling the ball it allows Leeds more time and space to initiate an attack. The fact he uses many short passes is further proven by him gathering 40.6 short passes on average per 90. Here is an example of him using a shorter pass vs Arsenal. This can be used throughout the whole game so Leeds can hold on to the ball so it lowers their chance of conceding.
The final technique that is commonly used by the Leeds midfielder is when he plays the ball to his full backs who can the carry the ball forward and possibly create a chance. Phillips did this against Arsenal in January. He uses this pass when he wants to slowly initiate an attacking movement. This is usually used early in a game when Leeds are under less pressure to score and have time.
This move allowed the full-back to hit the ball long. Unfortunately, it was cleared by David Luiz.
As I mentioned earlier, Phillips’ wide-scale passing ability helps him to be able to escape the press and become press resistant. In the first photo of Phillips, we can see two Arsenal players pressing Phillips. He chooses to use the safe option and pass it back to his centre half who passed it wide and created an attack. This all started from Phillips recycling the ball to escape the press. As we can also see, he makes many long forward passes, many of these are made when he is under pressure and he makes these as this makes the pitch bigger and allows him to escape the press and ignite an attack with his venomous passing ability. This example proves his ability of composure when he receives the ball in a tight area. His press resistance is further proven by him only being dispossessed 0.6 times per game, this is an amazing record for a player like Phillips. It’s actually much better than Allan at Napoli with the same role, who is dispossessed 1.6 times per game.
Kalvin Phillips has great versatility which contributes to his defensive ability, he is great in defensive duels and displayed this vs Arsenal, winning 15 out of 19 defensive duels. This is equivalent to winning the ball 79% of the time which is fantastic for a Championship player against a Premier League side. This wasn’t just apparent for one game either, Phillips wins 6.4 duels per game on average, this is better than N’Golo Kante who only wins 4.5 duels per game. Phillips also has a better success rate from duels than Kante, Phillips has a 55% success rate compared to Kante’s 40% success rate. Here is a defensive duel Phillips won vs Arsenal.
In the photo above we can see Kalvin Phillips applying pressure to Sokratis from the right, this pressure caused Sokratis to make a heavier touch and allowed Phillips to slide in and win the ball off the Arsenal man.
Phillips has a good tackling ability and usually times them perfectly to win the ball with no hassle. He only commits 1.4 fouls per 90 which is less than Leicester’s Ndidi who commits 1.6 per 90. Phillips preferred tackle is a standing tackle, there are multiple perfect examples of him using it. Here is a clean standing tackle Phillips made in Leeds in their last encounter with Wigan. He won the ball and Leeds were able to maintain possession.
Strength from set pieces
Kalvin Phillips commonly takes set pieces for Leeds and there is definitely a reason why. He has a great out-swinger at corners and occasionally uses an in-swinger from free kicks. Despite Leeds’ corner problems and them only scoring 8 goals from set pieces this term, the 24-year old has created 33 chances from corners (best record in the Championship this season) as well as 8 chances from free kicks. The only problem is Leeds don’t have many good aerial players. Here’s a map of his chances created in the championship as we can see there are a lot from the corner flags.
An example of Phillips hitting an out-swinging corner was against Reading FC , he hit in the out-swinger and unfortunately, it didn’t lead to a goal but did lead to a chance which was hit wide by a Leeds player.
Alongside his ability to hit corners, Phillips delivery from free kicks can be deadly as he tends to utilise the in-swinger technique from free kicks and it almost lead to a lovely headed goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup this season. To Phillips misfortune, the ball did not go in the back of the net but rather narrowly missed.
Area for improvement
One area Phillips could improve upon is his discipline. The Leeds midfielder has racked up eight cards this season. Seven being yellow and one being a red. The red card came in a match up against QPR in January, Phillips came sliding in recklessly with no intention of winning the ball.
Despite the Leeds midfielder cleaner record from fouls per game, he could definitely half this if he put more concentration in throughout the whole game. This absence hurt Leeds picking up two losses without Phillips in the side this shows how influential the homegrown midfielder is.
This scout report has allowed us to get some tactical insight into Kalvin Phillips game by using tactical analysis. By getting an insight into Phillips game it has allowed us to see how good a player the young man is. It has shown us how far he can get in his career with his immense positioning, fantastic passing and great defensive ability this will get him far in the game and with some improvement, he could be one of the world’s best. With Premier League clubs interested like Manchester United, it is Phillips’ chance to make his break and take the Premier League by storm. The question is will he do it with another team like United or even a Bundesliga side, or will he stay at Leeds and sustain his name as “The Yorkshire Pirlo”?