There were a few eyebrows raised when Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips was first brought into the England set-up by manager Gareth Southgate last year.
The Three Lions are blessed with plenty of talent across the middle of the park, but Southgate decided to test Phillips out at international level, as he made his debut against Denmark back in September. He has not looked back since, and after a Man of the Match performance in England’s Euro 2020 opener against Croatia, Phillips is already starting to repay the faith shown in him by the Three Lions boss.
No surprise to Leeds regulars
While supporters of other clubs might have been surprised by Phillips’ inclusion in the national side, those who watch Leeds regularly will have felt the call-up more than deserved. The Whites’ academy product has come on leaps and bounds over the last three seasons and was key in helping the West Yorkshire outfit earn promotion back to the Premier League in 2020.
Finishing up in ninth place in their first campaign back in the top flight, Phillips was a key figure for Marcelo Bielsa’s side at Elland Road. Leeds noticeably struggled when their midfield talisman was not on the field, with his passing ability, tackling and work-rate proving essential for the side. Southgate was a regular spectator at Elland Road in Leeds’ first campaign back in the top tier and saw first-hand Phillips’ influence. Leeds did not lose a single game at home against the ‘big six’ this season, and their midfield general was key in those performances.
Southgate hands Phillips different role
While Phillips has established himself as the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ in a more defensive midfield role at his hometown club, Southgate has moved him higher up the field. In England’s opening game, Phillips was in more attacking positions and assisted Raheem Sterling’s goal in the 1-0 win over Croatia at Wembley Stadium. Looking ahead to the fixtures to come and the Euro 2020 predictions today, Phillips will be expected to play more in that creative role for his country and could be key to them performing as their 49/10 odds to win the tournament would suggest. While he has that ability to offer more in the final third, the move by Southgate also allows him to play more attacking players, knowing Phillips will cover and make tackles if needed. It also means West Ham United star Declan Rice, who has also enjoyed an impressive season, can occupy his more familiar role in front of the defence.
There will be tougher challenges to come, as England look to build towards the all-important knockout stages of the European Championships. Southgate’s side look like they are building on their efforts at the last major tournament, as they reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
It certainly was a positive start for Phillips and England at this competition, and this might well be a summer to remember for a player who seems to be winning fans over from all corners of the country.