Football News

Kalvin Phillips transfer: How West Ham’s Pirlo-approved signing upgrades Moyes’ midfield

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 14:00, 25 January 2024

Kalvin Phillips is set to join West Ham on a sixth-month loan from Manchester City.

The Hammers will reportedly have the option to sign the former Leeds United man permanently once the deal concludes.

“It still is not done. He travelled yesterday for a medical test, but it is not completely done,” City boss Pep Guardiola told reporters.

“He is probably going to be on loan for six months and hopefully he play the minutes he deserves that I couldn’t give him.”

He added: “It is what it is. I’ve said it many times, he is an exceptional human being, and a football player, otherwise he wouldn’t be in the national team. Hopefully he can prove what he really is.”

His move temporarily ended a frustrating but successful chapter of Phillips’s career. Initially, the 28-year-old midfielder crossed the Pennines in July 2022 as Rodri’s understudy, but the Spaniard’s excellence reduced him to being a regular fixture on City’s bench.

Phillips ultimately made 31 appearances under Pep Guardiola, with six in City’s starting lineup. His limited outings and City’s recent unprecedented trophy-laden period have curiously seen the Yorkshireman lift a piece of silverware every 182.2 minutes.

It’s a far cry from playing an integral role under Marcelo Bielsa during their period together at Elland Road; back then, Phillips was favourably compared to Andrea Pirlo, and before lining up for England against Italy at Euro 2020, the legendary Italian sent him a good luck message.

“…in England there’s never been this kind of player,” Pirlo later told The Athletic. “There have been great midfielders over the years with different skills – there’s the boy at Leeds (Phillips), who’s a bit of a regista (playmaker).”

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City’s interest was understandable. They parted with a reported £45m for his services, with the Englishman signing a six-year deal. He subsequently became the club’s second major acquisition that summer after the Premier League champions acquired Erling Haaland for a reported initial fee of £51 million from Borussia Dortmund.

His breakthrough performances under Bielsa earned him a first England call-up; in his final Leeds campaign, Phillips missed 14 games due to a troublesome hamstring injury but finished the season strong as the Peacocks staved off relegation and maintained their Premier League status at Burnley’s expense. Across his 20 league appearances, Phillips averaged 3 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per 90.

That emotional connection with Bielsa was further illustrated when the Argentine coach reached out following a disappointing performance.

“I spoke to him after a game against Leicester at home, only a few months ago, I didn’t do to well and I gave him a little message asking him if I could speak to him,” he told BBC Radio Leeds last summer.

“He messaged me back straight away – he can’t speak any English so he had to get the translator to call me and then connected us that way.

“We had a really good chat and he asked me how I was, how I was feeling and he was just saying it’s all to do with confidence because you’ve got the ability.

“That conversation made me feel a lot, lot better and I got to play a few more games at the end of the season, which was nice.”

Seconds after the ink dried on his City’s contract, Phillips acknowledged breaking into Guardiola’s first team and maintaining a regular starting berth would be difficult. Still, that lack of playing time didn’t cost him future international caps.

Phillips’ last eight Three Lions appearances came while representing the English champions, including a 3-1 win at Scotland, where he lined up alongside Declan Rice, who is no stranger to playing in east London.

“He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen, if I’m honest with you,” Rice told Talksport.

“As a person as well, he’s an all-round top guy and he brings that onto the pitch. It’s obviously difficult when you’re not playing as a footballer and I know he wants to be playing more, for sure, but mentally he hasn’t broken.

“He hasn’t throw his toys out of the pram. He gives everything every day, he still improves and still plays with a smile on his face so I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

Phillips’ arrival bolsters David Moyes’ central midfield options and potentially alters their approach.

With the Scottish tactician predominantly utilising a 4-2-3-1 system, Phillips will likely form a double pivot with Edson Álvarez. In their recent 2-0 win at Arsenal, the Hammers started with Tomas Soucek and Álvarez sitting in front of their back-four, with James Ward-Prowse in the deep-lying forward role and Jarrod Bowen leading West Ham’s frontline.

“I think he’ll take Soucek’s place,” is Danny Murphy’s prediction. It’s a reasonable assumption, as Soucek and Ward-Prowse prefer to play in advanced positions and require a number six to cover them.

In their recent match against Sheffield United, the Czech international was deployed in a more defensive role next to Ward-Prowse, certainly not his best-suited position. Consequently, it was not surprising they gave up 21 shots and 2.51 xG; even more damaging, it came against the league’s poorest scorers.

Phillips’ presence could benefit West Ham by reducing the number of shots they concede and improving Soucek and Ward-Prowse’s attacking abilities.

Going back to the Pirlo comparisons, even though we haven’t seen many instances of it in his 18 months at City, Phillips is essentially a deep-lying midfielder who excels in front of his team’s defence, excellent at recycling possession and will help West Ham against sides that choose to sit back.

This weapon can be useful in situations where West Ham needs to isolate Bowen and Mohammed Kudus against defenders in matches where they are bossing possession. Additionally, it can help accelerate Hammers’ movement up the pitch. Phillips has already shown the wherewithal to play long balls behind the opposition from deep within his half.

On paper, it seems like a clash of styles, with Moyes sharply contrasting Bielsa and Guardiola, the latter preferring their defensive midfielder to be comfortable on the ball.

That being said, West Ham seems like the ideal place to rediscover the form that earned him a move to City.