It has been a superb summer for England. Every player involved in the squad will return to club football with their reputation enhanced. The player to benefit most from the European Championship may be Kalvin Phillips. The Leeds United midfielder has been loved by his club supporters for many years, but the wider footballing public are now seeing his ability at the highest level. Prior to the tournament, many would have seen him as a good Premier League player, but there were doubts about his role in the England team.
There would have been a preference for Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham or even Mason Mount to start in a central midfield role next to Declan Rice. Now, there is zero doubt about Phillips’ place in the team and it can even be argued that he has moved above Rice in the pecking order. From the outfield players, only John Stones has played in more minutes than the Leeds’ midfielder, which underlines the faith that Gareth Southgate has in Phillips.
The stat that emphasises the reason why Phillips is one of the first names on the team sheet is his pressures. He has made 171 pressures during the tournament, which is the most of any player. In a summer where the majority of players are fatigued from the schedule, the 25-year-old has found more in the tank. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he is used to Marcelo Bielsa’s physical demands. The Leeds United squad is arguably one of the fittest in Europe and England have been reaping the rewards from that.
To provide context to the above, no other England player ranks in the top ten for pressures. Other midfielders from the semi-finalists, Jorginho (112), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (104) and Pedri (104) rank in the top ten, but their numbers are considerably less than Phillips.
In terms of winning the ball back, Phillips has won eight tackles in the tournament, at an average of just over one per game. This may be surprising considering his role in the middle of the park for England, who have played six matches so far. However, there has been a deliberate ploy from the England team to be less aggressive in their attempts to win the ball. Southgate prefers his team to retain their shape and press the space to force wayward passes. As shown by the amount of pressures he has, Phillips is a master of this.
For Leeds United, it is a very different story, as Phillips averages 2.74 tackles and 1.82 interceptions per ninety minutes, ranking in the top quarter when compared to other midfielders. For his club, he dictates the tempo from deep and is central to their success under Bielsa. An average of 2.15 shot creating actions per ninety minutes shows that he is capable of creating opportunities from deep. Meanwhile, he carries a threat with his set piece delivery, albeit, we have yet to see that much with England.
During the opening game, Phillips showed an impressive ability to drive forward from midfield. This is an aspect of his game that isn’t utilised as much by Leeds. He completed two of his three attempted dribbles, one of which led to the winning goal. His pass to release Raheem Sterling was excellent and he was awarded with the Star of the Match award.
Following this tournament, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Phillips attract interest from a Champions League club. He has shown that he can perform on the highest stage and he has a varied set of attributes that make him a great option for teams competing for major honours. His love of pressing seems to be a good fit for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
Although it is unlikely that the Reds would commit the money required to sign Phillips this summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the England international make that move in the next 24 months. He is the perfect profile for their style of play.
For now, his focus will be on England and Leeds United. It has been a breakthrough season for the midfielder, as he has proven that he can compete at the very highest level. He must now push on and consolidate his status at the top of the English game.
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