Nigel Martyn has applauded Kalvin Phillips for his performance on Sunday afternoon as Leeds United kept their tenth clean sheet of the season against Manchester United, drawing 0-0 at Elland Road. England midfielder Phillips did not give Bruno Fernandes a moment, and Martyn compared his role to how Lucas Radebe was used to mark Liverpool’s Steve McManaman during his playing days – as Marcelo Bielsa’s side went six games unbeaten.
Phillips, 25, was tasked with keeping Fernandes quiet as Leeds looked to stem the flow of goals that saw them concede six times at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture. Certainly, Leeds had only conceded four goals in their previous five games and that record increased to six game – as Illan Meslier kept his tenth clean sheet of the 2020-21 campaign, a new record that sees the Frenchman become the youngest goalkeeper to reach double digits.
It was an ethos that was something almost unrecognisable from the Leeds side earlier in the season. Leeds, though more attacking from the 10-men that beat Manchester City, were more than happy to surrender less dangerous areas of the pitch – as they took on their fourth top-six side in the space of six games, having faced Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool recently. Along with United, it is four of the six Super League clubs.
Asked for his stand-out performers as Leeds continued their unbeaten run and overtook Arsenal into the top half of the Premier League table, leapfrogging Arsenal, Martyn picked Phillips. He applauded the Thorp Arch academy product for his display, as the Leeds midfielder completely man-marked Fernandes out of the game – a player that boasts 24 goals and 14 assists in all competitions for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side this season.
“It is Bielsa’s way, he has probably said stay with him,” Martyn told LeedsUnited.News. “He [Fernandes] is their jewel, he creates and often scores. If you can stop Fernandes playing, you stop their forward momentum. Phillips was happy to go out wide with him, go deep with him. I saw his stats as well, they were top for just about everything. A strong performance in an important game like that probably books you a ticket to the Euros. It [man-marking] can be infuriating [for the attacker].”
The draw sees Leeds maintain their excellent recent form and with a decent run-in that includes a struggling Tottenham as well as four bottom-half sides in Brighton, West Brom, Southampton and Burnley – the Whites are certainly well-positioned to finish in the top 10. Sitting in ninth, it has been a sensational return to top-flight football – matching the likes of Wolves and Sheffield United on their returns to the Premier League in recent seasons.
Both Wolves and the Blades have struggled since, failing to replicate their first seasons back in the Premier League. Leeds will be hoping for better next season and keeping Phillips will be crucial to that. Martyn continued in his praise of the midfielder, stating that Leeds did a similar thing when facing Liverpool and McManaman – placing ‘The Chief’ Radebe on him in order to stop the England ace during his playing days.
“We did it with Lucas Radebe when Steve McManaman was in his pomp. Steve was wide, we just got Lucas to mark him,” Martyn continued. “He had a few successes, but with Lucas being Lucas he probably left a few stud marks and it quietened him down. The more stifling it is, the more it can be frustrating. It’s not rocket science, but he’s the playmaker. It just means they haven’t got that player with the key to unlock the defence. A clean sheet against United, that’s 10 for the season is exceptional.”