STRUGGLING Leeds United head into a crucial part of the season with a tough ask of three games in six days as they battle to stay out of the Premier League relegation zone.

Gloom descended on Elland Road at the weekend when they were comprehensively outplayed by fellow strugglers Everton, crashing to a 3-0 defeat.

The Whites will be looking to bounce back when they entertain Manchester United on Sunday (2pm) before travelling to high-flying Liverpool next Wednesday and hosting Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, February 26.

The trio of key games will come too soon for star midfield anchor Kalvin Phillips who has missed the last nine matches because of injury although coach Marcelo Bielsa has revealed the England man may be available in the first week of March.

Phillips’ uncanny ability to sniff out danger in front of the defence is a key factor in the way Leeds play and his absence has been sorely missed. No other player at the club, whatever their qualities, can fill Phillips’ role to any degree of consistency.

The ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ last played a full game for United on November 30 as Leeds beat Crystal Palace 1-0, keeping a clean sheet for a second successive match. After limping off against Brentford in the following match with hamstring trouble, Leeds have leaked goals at an alarming rate – 26 in the nine games Phillips has missed.

Bielsa admitted he made a mistake at Everton by using Mateusz Klich as a defensive midfielder as the home side poured through acres of space in midfield to open up an exposed defence at will. Ironically, many of Everton’s attacks were orchestrated by Donny van de Beek, who had been offered to Leeds on loan by Manchester United in the January transfer window.

“The position of Klich was an error on my part,” Bielsa said. “The midfielder that was positioned in front of our three centre-backs had to defend too much, he couldn't do what he does best, which is to make runs in attack.”

Those words would suggest that Adam Forshaw, who came on for Klich at half-time, will be restored to the starting line-up against Manchester United.

However, Leeds will be sweating on the fitness of utility man Stuart Dallas, the Whites’ only ever-present outfield player this season. He limped off early in the Goodison debacle and was replaced at left-back by young Leo Hjelde. Should Dallas not make the game against the Red Devils it is likely that his place will go to Junior Firpo, who was not quite fit enough to face Everton.

Leeds are in 15th place, six points above the drop zone, one ahead of Everton, who have a game in hand, while revitalised Newcastle are a couple of points behind Leeds, having played the same amount of games.

All the clubs below Leeds are away on Saturday. Everton and Newcastle go to Southampton and West Ham respectively, while two of the bottom three are also on their travels with Norwich at Liverpool, Watford at Aston Villa and Burnley at Brighton.