Wolves v Leeds United: Kalvin Phillips returns with new remit from Jesse Marsch

It might only be brief tonight, but the hope is that after 103 days without, Leeds United fans will finally see Kalvin Phillips in their colours again. It will, though, be a different player to the one they are used to.

Phillips and Liam Cooper are back from injury and in contention to face Wolverhampton Wanderers after injuring hamstrings in December’s 2-2 draw with Brentford.

Coach Jesse Marsch plans to follow a similar course as with Patrick Bamford, who also injured his hamstring that day but is hoping to make his third appearance since this evening.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Marsch will use Phillips in a different role to the one he played for Marcelo Bielsa, more like the job he excelled at with England at last summer’s European Championships.

THE LAST TIME: Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips recieves treatment on the pitch at Elland Road in the Premier League clasj against Brentford - the last time he played for the Whites. Picture: Tony Johnson

He also wants to hear more from one of the club’s figureheads. He thinks this version of Phillips could reach new levels.

“I hope so,” says the American. “The goal with all the players is to help them develop, grow and get better as players and as people.

“I think Kalvin has – as good as he is – room to grow as a leader, and with greater intensity and being aggressive against the ball he can use his quality with the ball to help himself in the team.”

Marsch has created a “leadership council” of senior players – Phillips, Cooper, Bamford, Luke Ayling, Adam Forshaw, Rodrigo and Stuart Dallas – to bounce ideas off and accelerate the getting-to-know-you process.

Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“It’s really important for them to have their finger on the pulse of who I am so they can translate to me what they think is important for the team from what they’re hearing from other players and they can kind of disseminate and help give information,” he explains. “It’s important they’re fully in, committed 100 per cent to what we’re trying to develop here.

“The more those seven guys do that it will be easier for everybody to be all in and understand what we’re trying to accomplish.

“All of the more experienced players have really impressed me with their ability to throw themselves at this entirely, to believe in it, to give everything they have, to be selfless, to give opinions, to push the group from the inside. That has helped me immensely.

“Everybody had a really open mind to trying to learn a new kind of football and to understanding the details are really important and that step by step we need to continue to focus more and more on transitioning into what we want to become.

Kalvin Phillips battles for possession with Germany's Kai Havertz during the Euro 2020 clash at Wembley Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

“So it’s up to me to continue to encourage that, reward it and provide room for them to give their personality and give of themselves but I’m really, really thankful for the player pool across the board. The entire group is as selfless, humble and hard-working as any group I’ve ever seen.”

But talking is one thing, what Phillips does on the pitch will be more important.

Bielsa liked to give the Leeds-born midfielder some space, usually as the anchorman in a 4-1-4-1 formation that put great responsibility on him to initiate as well as break up attacks. Marsch favours two holding midfielders, in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-2-2-2, but fortunately for him, so does England manager Gareth Southgate.

“He (Phillips) said it’s not that dissimilar from what they do with the national team,” revealed Marsch. “He plays a lot in there with Declan Rice and they share a lot of responsibilities as a double six against the ball. They try to do some of the similar things with pressing, they talk about counter-pressing. So obviously it’s not exactly the same but there are similarities and Kalvin’s an intelligent guy so I think he’ll be able to adjust relatively quickly. I’m really excited to get him on the pitch.

“We’ll make a plan and we’ll stick to the plan. The worst thing we can do is have any kind of setback so I’m very disciplined when it comes to how we manage the players physically. It’s probably the biggest contributing factor to success or failure, having a fully fit and fresh and healthy team.”

Leeds are hopeful Joe Gelhardt will shrug off a back injury picked up in Sunday’s stoppage-time goalscoring cameo against Norwich City, and that the soreness Bamford felt and the tight quad muscle Rodrigo picked up will not stop them playing tonight.

Junior Firpo will be missing for “three to five weeks” with a medial cruciate ligament injury, and fellow defender Leo Fuhr Hjelde could be back in training late next week after knee surgery.

Having Phillips, an icon of the modern Leeds, not just fit but playing at his best and fully engaged when richer clubs inevitably come calling in this summer’s transfer window, will be vital.

“Kalvin is a big part of the identity of the team in this moment,” says Marsch.

“But there’s a lot of guys that are and a lot of guys that are fully committed to what it is to be part of Leeds United.”

Maybe so, but there is no one quite like Phillips.

Last six games: Wolverhampton Wanderers WWLLLW, Leeds United WLLLLL

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire)

Last time: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Leeds United 0, February 19, 2021, Premier League