Kalvin Phillips was offered the option of a loan move away from Manchester City during the transfer window in order to rediscover his form, after sitting on the bench for most of last season. But the former Leeds man turned down the offer, choosing instead to stay and fight for his place in the team and his career at Manchester City.
After a perfect start to the new season that has seen him remain on the fringes of the team as Pep Guardiola seeks to mastermind another successful campaign at the Etihad Stadium, Phillips seems to have been handed the perfect opportunity to show the stuff he is made of. The next few weeks could make or break the midfielder’s career as far as City is concerned.
The ultimate test for Phillips arrived when Rodri picked up a needless red card against Nottingham Forest last weekend. Guardiola has already bemoaned the strain the team is feeling due to injuries suffered by some key players. Rodri’s suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time as it adds salt to the wound.
That has left City short of options in midfield as Guardiola strives to maintain the team’s impressive start to the season. For a manager who rarely guarantees any player’s place in the starting line-up, Guardiola admitted that Phillips was sure to start against Newcastle United in the League Cup. The 27-year-old later partnered new man Mateo Kovacic at the base of the midfield in the game.
Both men started very well as City controlled the first half at St. James’ Park. But the second half was a different ball game. Eddie Howe made changes to his forward line and the Blues were immediately put under intense pressure.
With Kovacic just back from injury and Philips lacking match sharpness, the cracks began to appear in City’s midfield. A barrage of attacks soon produced a goal as City’s defence caved in. Guardiola could only bring in new signings Matheus Nunes and Jeremy Doku alongside Phil Foden to freshen things up. But Howe responded with substitutions of his own and once The Magpies could smell the victory, there was no way back.
Phillips was signed by City as an understudy to Rodri and to either partner the Spanish international in defensive midfield or fill in for him when necessary. But Rodri’s excellent performance has coincided with Guardiola’s apparent dissatisfaction with Phillips’ in training.
That has led to the Englishman finding game time difficult to come by. The problem with lack of minutes on the pitch is that it rubs a player of both team bonding and match sharpness. Regularly playing matches keeps a player in sync with his teammates, operating smoothly based on the understanding that has been built over time.
These are all qualities that take time for most players to build. Unfortunately for Phillips, time is a resource he doesn’t have to make his mark at City. Although the loss at Newcastle is one for the whole team, it also puts the spotlight on Phillips. His performance in the game was okay, but not great. He gave the ball away a couple of times that almost led to goals. He also picked up a yellow card that could easily have turned into a red on another day due to a heavy tackle on the opponent.
Like several other City players, his performance was just above average. It was nothing outstanding as is usually delivered by the likes of Rodri, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Erling Haaland and even Kyle Walker.
City’s failure in Rodri’s absence reflects negatively on Phillips even if he is not directly the cause of the defeat. Fortunately, he has the opportunity to make a stronger case for himself in the next few matches before Rodri returns.
This could be one game down, two more to go. In the hope that Guardiola is impressed enough to open the door for an upturn in fortunes for the Englishman. It could also be a time for the Catalan boss to decide he has seen enough to cut his losses and move on.