Bielsa explains strange Leeds tactic that baffled Phillips – ‘I don’t know why he did it’

Date published: Sunday 21st November 2021 7:25 - Steve Pearson

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa during their 2-1 defeat to Tottenham

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa gave his rationale for deploying a curious tactic involving Kalvin Phillips that the midfielder admitted he couldn’t explain.

Leeds took the lead against Tottenham when Daniel James notched his first goal since arriving from Manchester United in the summer. The Welshman’s prodded finish owed much to superb work down the left from Jack Harrison who troubled Emerson Royal throughout.

However, with Antonio Conte’s words seemingly ringing in their ears, Tottenham emerged after the break resembling an altogether different team.

Spurs dominated the second half and struck the woodwork twice before equalising through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. The pressure was maintained and despite manful efforts, Leeds fell behind when Sergio Reguilon poached a winner.

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A curious element of Bielsa’s tactics on the day was deploying Kalvin Phillips as part of the defence. The midfielder was tasked with matching Spurs’ forwards man-for-man. Phillips was left baffled by the move, though Bielsa did explain his rationale.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the match, Bielsa said of playing Phillips in defence: “He played very well.

“In the second half when he played centre-back he played well even if it was less minutes than the first. I thought he was the best player to go with Harry Kane when he drops to pick up the ball.

“At the same time I thought Diego Llorente was best player to follow Son Heung-min’s diagonals.”

Reacting to the match in more general terms to the BBC, Bielsa added: “In the first half we played better, in the second half they did.

“The difference in the second half was bigger for them than we managed to achieve in the first half. I think the result was fair.

“Perhaps if we had drawn the game it would have been a prize for what we constructed in the first half. But as the second half went on they increased the differences compared to us.

“Even with our absences we played the way we wanted to in the first half. But not being able to play that way in the second half was a problem.”

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Phillips baffled by Bielsa tactics

Phillips also spoke to the press, and joked to Sky Sports of his bemusement at Bielsa’s decision to position him so deep.

Phillips admitted he didn’t know why that tactical decision was made, saying: “To be honest I don’t know why he [Bielsa] did it.

“We wanted to be more defensive with their attacking threat. Me and Liam Cooper went man for man marking.

“It worked really well in the first half. But in the second half it’s just a lack of concentration that hurt us.

“We needed a better game management. We were 1-0 up in the second half trying to push for a second goal. It’s those moments you probably need to pump it long and soak up the pressure.

“We are missing some very good players in our team, some very important players. It’s not an excuse, although we did come here and play some good football.

“I’m not one for panicking. The way we play football we’ll eventually stack some more points on the board.”

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