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Leeds United’s Flynn Downes transfer link makes sense, but not as replacement for Kalvin Phillips

Rumors surrounding Kalvin Phillips’ future at Leeds United continue to swirl and on Sunday it was reported that Aston Villa were front of the queue to sign the midfielder this summer. The Times have claimed Villa are ready to make a £60million bid for the England international and they have also named one of the players Leeds would be interested in as a replacement for their home star.

The player in question is Swansea City’s Flynn Downes. The Swans snapped up the 23-year-old midfielder from Ipswich Town last summer for a fee of just £1.5million and he played in midfielder Russell Martin, making 31 appearances, mostly from right side of a deep midfield two in a 3 Formation in -4-2-1.

The report mentions that the Whites see Downes as a potential replacement for Phillips, but given the two players have very different profiles, that would seem surprising. The former Ipswich man could fit well into the midfield two that Jesse Marsch wants to play in his 4-2-2-2 formation, but he is much closer in style of play to Adam Forshaw or Mateusz Klich.

Read more: Aston Villa ‘race in the lead’ to sign Leeds United midfielder for £60m Kalvin Phillips

So far under Marsch, Klich has looked impressive playing in a deeper position. In Marcelo Bielsa’s system he was expected to make a lot of attacking runs, but his role in Marsch’s system forces him to hold his position more and put his passes into play as he helps advance the ball through the middle of the ground.

We have yet to see how Phillips will perform in the 4-2-2-2, but he is first and foremost a ball winner, having played in Bielsa’s Leeds side and playing for England. On the ball, he has an excellent ability to play long passes into the channels and change play, but it will be interesting to see how that pass fits in now that Leeds are playing a system with much less width.

Downes has been a deep playmaker for Swansea, with Martin wanting his team to dominate the ball. Therefore, he acts almost like a metronome for his team. He is graceful on the ball and uses his body well to get off the pressure. He sets the tempo, takes a huge number of touches and makes lots of short passes while helping his team find space to play through their opponents. It makes him a less direct player than someone like Phillips.

However, should Leeds buy Downes, Marsch could demand that he be more direct than he currently is, as the American does not want to deal with the ball in the same way as Martin. He’s happy for Leeds to turn the ball over if they put it in dangerous areas, as they can counter-press from that position.

In terms of Downes’ defensive work and physical profile, he’s tall and covers ground well with long strides, but he lacks the upper body strength and aggression of Phillips. He wouldn’t win the ball back in the spectacular way Phillips can with crisp tackles. Downes’ defensive work is more about positioning. Considering that Marsch’s defensive system involves defending more space, when the opposition have the ball in Leeds’ half, that’s something that could suit Downes well.

Therefore, Downes is by no means a similar replacement for Phillips. Whether the Whites fan favorite signs a new contract or not, Downes could fit comfortably into both midfielders. Leeds have certainly lacked depth in midfield in 2021/22 and could do with another player in midfield. He would provide another option in terms of ball control a bit better than they currently do.

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