Kalvin Phillips is putting up no fight in losing battle to Rodri at Man City after Leeds mistake

Will Ford
Phillips Man City

Kalvin Phillips isn’t fit, Pep Guardiola isn’t happy and Rodri continues to be brilliant. The £42m move from Leeds looks more perverse by the day.

Leeds fans must have felt a combination of immense pride and unease as Kalvin Phillips starred for England at Euro 2020. The country sat up, took notice and realised what all the fuss was about.

But any satisfaction at being proved right was tinged with the inevitability of him not staying at Leeds much longer.

After one more season at Elland Road, in which he proved his value to the side not so much through his performances, but those of the team without him during his long injury absence, Phillips moved to Manchester City for £42m. He’s played 93 minutes of football since.

Roughly half of that game time came at the World Cup, where he was handed pity minutes by Gareth Southgate having been comprehensively usurped in midfield by Jude Bellingham, before he returned to City to be told by Guardiola that he was “not in the best condition to train and play”. This move really hasn’t gone very well.

And it always looked like an odd decision. Sure, he wants to play Champions League football and win trophies. But Manchester City have Rodri. Is Phillips so ignorant that he thought he could displace the most consistently brilliant defensive midfielder in the Premier League of the last two seasons? It’s not as though that’s a role Guardiola tends to rotate.

Fernandinho played close to every minute he was available for before Rodri arrived. To play games of football as a defensive midfielder for Guardiola, you have to be the best defensive midfielder. City have had three further players in that position in Guardiola’s time at the club – Fernando, Fabian Delph and Douglas Luiz – who have combined to start eight Premier League games in that position, for a total of 907 minutes in Guardiola’s six-and-a-half seasons at the club. It’s been Fernandinho, then Rodri.

Phillips has been out through injury for the majority of the season, which explains why he’s played quite so little, but if he’s hoping to break into the team ahead of Rodri now he’s injury free, he’s going about it all wrong. A report suggests that having returned to City unfit, the 27-year-old is ‘set for an extended absence’ from the team having been ‘axed’ by Guardiola. It’s claimed ‘he faces a major battle to win back the favour of Guardiola for the second half of the season’.

Having been the guy for Leeds and, during Euro 2020, for England, Phillips has barely registered at Manchester City, and doesn’t look as though he will anytime soon. Even if Rodri were to get injured now, John Stones or Ilkay Gundogan would be ahead of Phillips as options to take his place. And he’s set for a Bellingham-watching brief on international duty, if he manages to persuade Southgate that he’s worthy of a place in the squads to come over competition that’s certain to be playing more regularly at club level.

Phillips should never have moved to Manchester City, and less than six months later, may be regretting that decision. He won’t leave in January but perhaps he should, because he’s not even fighting in the losing battle with Rodri to start under Guardiola, whose only defensive midfield headache is how he can get his first choice through every minute of every game.