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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Kyle Newbould

Kalvin Phillips must improve one pivotal area if he is to emulate Rodri at Man City

It would be fair to say Kalvin Phillips' Manchester City career has taken a while to get going.

Signed at the start of July for £42million, the 27-year-old left boyhood club Leeds United to step up to the elite level of domestic football, as he had done on an international stage. But a combination of injury problems and the adaptation period when moving clubs had restricted the midfielder to just 95 minutes off the bench before Wednesday's 2-0 Carabao Cup defeat to Southampton - a first start in sky blue which lasted just over an hour.

Despite Pep Guardiola's rather stubborn claim that his tactics are 'so simple', a number of big-name signings have taken time to find their feet at the Etihad - most recently Jack Grealish, who admitted he could not believe how hard it was to settle in to his new manager's exacting style of play. And in Phillips' case, that period is no easier when you are competing with Rodri, arguably the world's best in that role.

Read also: Man City player ratings vs Southampton as Phillips and Gomez poor in Carabao Cup

Ahead of Wednesday's trip to St. Mary's Guardiola detailed the differences between Phillips and Rodri and the importance of competition between the two: "Kalvin has to fight with Rodri. For the benefit of all of us, Rodri can't sleep. He has to have the feeling that someone is close to him.

"That’s why big clubs have to have these options. Rodri knows a little bit more what we want to do. In the quality of long balls, Kalvin is better than Rodri. In shorter spaces and first actions, Rodri is better. Everyone has their own quality."

For long-range passing, you'd do well to find many in the Premier League better than Phillips, but the 27-year-old played a different game at Elland Road, dropping between the two centre-backs and picking his pass with all opposition players in front of him.

Rodri's primary focus at City is different, and in possession centres around receiving the ball under pressure before popping off short and punchy passes. By taking the ball in tight areas, he can attract the opposition press before releasing and allowing his side to spring into the spaces left behind.

When comparing Phillips' final season at Leeds - the last season in which he provided a genuine sample of minutes - and Rodri's 2022/2023 campaign thus far, it is the Spaniard who averages around double the number of complete passes (87.9 vs 44.4), short passes (35.2 vs 16.0) and passes received (80.3 vs 39.6) per 90 minutes, as per FBRef. Even when factoring in City's superior average possession - 65.9% vs 52.3% - the difference highlights a huge gap in the amount of influence each player has in build-up.

During his 32 minute spell in the FA Cup win over Chelsea at the weekend, Phillips often saw Bernardo Silva take on responsibility of receiving possession in the deeper roles while he took the ball facing forwards, but there were occasions where the Englishman received from Stefan Ortega and dropped it back into Aymeric Laporte or Manuel Akanji.

Similarly, during Wednesday's defeat at St. Mary's Joao Cancelo would drop in and take the ball under pressure when necessary, but there were signs of Phillips starting to calibrate those around him, both in the green-black stripes of City and the red and white of Southampton.

Cancelo is one of may current squad members who are proof of improvement under Guardiola. Neither he, Riyad Mahrez, Grealish nor Nathan Ake hit the ground running, but all - while at different stages - were able to learn the nuances of their role in the City manager's demanding and specific style.

Phillips can be another great success at the Etihad, if he can do the same.


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