He might not have anticipated playing centre back in his opening minutes for his new team when Kalvin Phillips came off the bench at halftime of Manchester City’s first preseason game.
Phillips was had to make his City debut in defence rather than midfield, though, since two veteran defenders were left at home and another was forced to skip the Club America friendly due to sickness.
Toward the conclusion of the game, he would subsequently play for 15 minutes in midfield, and it is that formation that will be more telling of how he will fit into Pep Guardiola’s plans this season.
He will need to replace Rodri, who has been outstanding for at least 18 months, if he wants to play in the position as a solitary holding midfielder, which he excelled in for Leeds. Phillips is aware that he must compete for his position, so perhaps those 15 minutes are a precursor of what is to come.
Eventually, Phillips was positioned in a double pivot with Rodri, where the Spaniard kept the action moving and Phillips was instructed to advance the ball. There is only so much that can be read into the tactics because the other five forward players were all academy players, even if it was the configuration that many had anticipated if the duo were to play together.
While Phillips told media last week at City’s team hotel that he would like the job going ahead, it was revealing that Guardiola shifted Kyle Walker into central defence to test Phillips next to Rodri, even for a little period of time.
“I used to play as an eight more often than I do now when I was younger. I had never done it before in the Euros, but I did okay. I will only get better as a player if I play in midfield with Rodri, Kevin [De Bruyne], and [Ilkay] Gundogan. I should only comprehend my position and the manager’s expectations before moving on.
Everything Marcelo [Bielsa] taught me was based on generating space for yourself to get on the ball by moving around a lot without the ball. At City, it’s more important to go into open areas to assist your teammates in receiving the ball or to position yourself so that you may receive the ball first and always play forward. These training sessions will help me adjust to it more quickly. It’s simply a matter of getting accustomed to that.
Phillips was upfront in admitting that he doesn’t anticipate unseating Rodri right away and that he might have to wait and put in extra effort off the field in order to gain playing time. He acknowledged that by doing so, his World Cup spot may be in jeopardy.
However, Rodri stated during the same press conference that given his prior experience playing with Fernandinho, he was open to and prepared to play with Phillips.
In regards to his new midfield partner, Rodri commented, “It was a tremendous opportunity for the club to get that sort of player.”
Of course, Fernandinho was a top player, but he is no longer there, and Kalvin has taken his place. We may play either together or separately because we are both really young. He possesses abilities that can help the team progress, and competition is beneficial for the squad.
“Inquire [about the formation] with the coach. I played a lot of games with Dinho last season, and in many aspects of the game, consistency is essential. When you are winning, you occasionally need to play a little bit better defence.
“I recall Dinho coming in, we played together, and he saved us in the game against Atletico last year. There may be times when we can play together, in my opinion. It’s important to have guys who can play in multiple places, and I believe he can also play a bit forward.
Therefore, it is evident that both new players understand what is expected of them this season. The Club America friendly served as an illustration of a moment when they may be partners.
Both will experience periods when they are both acting alone in the holding role. In one game, Phillips could be the playmaker at the diamond’s base, and in the next, he might be a box-to-box midfielder who charges forward.
Players must be thoroughly tuned in to Guardiola’s philosophy and ready to adjust in order for that type of rotation to succeed. Rodri and Phillips both provided performances on Wednesday in Houston to support their statements.