Jesse Marsch feels the return to action of Kalvin Philips and Liam Cooper is a “massive” boost to Leeds’ Premier League survival chances.
Leeds edged a point closer to safety on Saturday after being held to a 1-1 draw against Southampton at Elland Road as relegation rivals Watford and Burnley both lost.
Skipper Cooper was back in the starting line-up and midfield linchpin Phillips stepped off the bench, with both players appearing for the first time in four months after respective hamstring injuries.
119 days later!— Kalvin Phillips (@Kalvinphillips) April 2, 2022
Marsch said: “The point is certainly important in our season, but to have two big players like Liam and Kalvin back in the group and closer to full fitness is massive for us at this moment.
“We’re going to need those guys in a big way. They provide a big presence to our team, so that was a big step forward for us.”
Phillips, voted England’s player of the year by fans after their penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, has been sorely missed by Leeds.
The 26-year-old steadied the ship as a 66th-minute substitute on Saturday after a period of sustained Southampton pressure.
Marsch said: “I think he’s fantastic. You can see his quality, you can see his poise, you can see the confidence he brings to the group.
“When I say we were pushing in the last 15-20 minutes, I think Kalvin was a really big part of that. He came on the pitch and really just settled things down for us.”
Leeds were denied a third straight league win but Marsch said he was delighted with his side’s progress in his fifth game in charge since replacing Marcelo Bielsa in February.
The American added: “What I’m most pleased about is the fact that the group looked clearer.
“I could be calmer on the bench, because I knew they had things under control because they’re understanding more and more what we want the game to be.”
Leeds threatened to sweep Saints aside in a whirlwind start, but the visitors weathered the storm and were much improved in the second half.
Boss Ralph Hasenhuttl said: “It’s normal at the beginning here when they’re coming out with all their energy.
“It’s tough to control the game, it’s tough to get the game to calm down. This is never easy here.
“In the second half, the energy from the opponents was not as high as in the beginning, so it was easier to come out and concentrate on your game.”
After Ward-Prowse had equalised with a trademark free-kick, Armando Broja and Tino Livramento spurned clear-cut chances to add the Saints’ second.
Hasenhuttl added: “Tino had a big one at the second post where he must score.
“This is a position where he must take his opportunity to score and in the end you need a sensational free-kick from Prowsey to score, but we had other chances also.”
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