Time To Shine For Kalvin Phillips

A year ago, Kalvin Phillips was still a relatively unknown midfielder. He is a newcomer to the Premier League, promoted after six years in the Championship with Leeds United, a traditional English force who has been missing for 16 years from the top flight. Now, he is an integral part of the success of the Three Lions through the inaugural European Cup final.

Phillips career seemed to climb very quickly. The 25-year-old has only had one season of experience in the top division. After performing brilliantly in the midst of the Whites’ impressive season, it is not surprising that Southgate included him in the European Cup squad.

Southgate has long been interested in Phillips’ abilities. In early 2020/21, the former Middlesbrough coach attempted to secure the player’s services, immediately giving him an international debut to prevent him from naturalizing the Jamaica national team. Phillips does have Jamaican blood from his father’s side and The Reggae Boyz reportedly wanted to hook him up in 2020.

A week before his Premier League debut, he was called up by Gareth Southgate to compete in the UEFA Nations League. Phillips became the first Leeds player to be called up to the England national team since Alan Smith was last called in 2004. He earned eight caps before making his European Cup debut.

At Euro 2020, Phillips became a core player for The Three Lions. Southgate prefers him over veteran midfielder Jordan Henderson who has just recovered at the end of the season. The Leeds midfielder almost always plays full time for England. He was only substituted once in the match against Ukraine. That’s because England are already leading 4-0 and want to save energy for the sake of the semifinals.

Phillips surprising gait at the European Cup not only because of his status as a newcomer who was involved significantly. Southgate also played him in a different role than when he strengthened Leeds United. At club level, Marcelo Bielsa tends to play him as a regista, but Southgate uses Phillips more as a box-to-box midfielder with high cruising range.

Phillips himself succeeded in carrying out the “new” role as expected. At club level, he tends to operate behind the midfield and take advantage of his wide passing range. His ability to carry out the role earned him the nickname “Pirlo of Yorkshire” by Leeds fans. With the England national team, his playing style does not resemble Pirlo at all. Instead of sending precise passes from deep positions, Phillips tends to be more active in moving forward to distribute the ball into the attack line. He operates in a higher area and does not hesitate to rise from his position to duel.

When reviewing the player’s heatmap, Phillips looks more active in the final third with the England national team. While at Leeds, he tends to position himself behind the halfway line and only rises when his team is in an attacking position. The role is actually not new to Phillips. Prior to Bielsa’s arrival, he had played as a highly mobile and attacking-oriented central midfielder. In 2017/18, his active involvement up front saw him score seven goals and three assists in the Championship. The following season, he scored only one goal, a header capitalizing on a corner.

Bielsa guides Phillips into exploring a new role. The Argentine coach trained him in the position of defensive midfielder and central defender. Bielsa wants him to cover the back line as well as play a pass from the bottom. “It never crossed my mind that I would play there [in defensive midfield]. He [Bielsa] told me he wanted me to be a defensive midfielder and I had to be better defensively and with aerial balls. I just worked on those aspects. Before that, I probably thought I was box-to-box,” Phillips told The Athletic last season.

Marcelo Bielsa is known to like to train his players to try new positions. He seeks to develop the versatility that is essential to his game scheme. Phillips was able to answer the challenge of the coach and became an important point in the success of Leeds promotion to the Premier League. “He [Phillips] is a versatile player, and that is an important skill in modern football. If I had to do the same process [to Phillips], but reversed: instead of going from offensive to defensive, but from defender to attack, he would be able to play some of these positions with good results,” Bielsa said of his player.

Bielsa’s prediction was in fact correct. Gareth Southgate returned Phillips to his role at pre-Bielsa Leeds and the player executed it well. This Leeds academy graduate did not forget how to penetrate into the opponent’s area and position himself behind the attack line. In the first party against Croatia, Phillips’ contribution to attack was significant. He contributed an assist for the only goal scored by Raheem Sterling. Receiving the ball in the right half-space, Phillips dodged the tackle of two Croatian players and moved towards the penalty box. He sent a through ball which was met by Sterling and executed in front of the goalkeeper area.

At Euro 2020, England simply returned Phillips to his old position and profited from it. With the resilience and dexterity forged at the club, Phillips was able to carry out his old role at a higher level and at greater stakes.

England had played the final of the European Cup and Kalvin Phillips has made great contribution. Even though England did not win the final, Phillps has definitely stole the show and it is his time to shine now.


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