In a night where Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jack Grealish and Conor Coady were among the inexperienced England internationals making the headlines during their 3-0 win over Wales, Kalvin Phillips went under the radar as he produced a workmanlike display on his Wembley debut.
The Yorkshire Pirlo boasted the highest passing accuracy (93.8%) of any player to complete the full 90 minutes for either side, with only centre-backs Conor Coady and Michael Keane completing more than his 64 passes.
Kalvin Phillips v Wales:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 8, 2020
93.8% pass accuracy
60/64 successful passes
3/4 successful long passes
2 successful crosses
1 aerial duel won
Solid performance. Delighted to see England score from a Kalvin Phillips corner sequence. #LUFC pic.twitter.com/8VoGSYuW3j
Combined with his two crosses and three accurate through balls, the 24-year-old enjoyed a night capped off by Coady and Danny Ings’ goals, both of which were forged from initial Phillips corners.
Gareth Southgate’s continued use of the Leeds academy graduate as half of a double-pivot in holding midfield, however, begs the question: are England getting the most out of Kalvin Phillips?
Despite coming up against a Wales side without Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Southgate not only opted to field three central defenders, but also had Phillips sitting ahead of them alongside a midfield partner in Harry Winks.
The sheer number of defensive players on the field invited pressure and stopped the hosts from committing enough bodies forward. As a result, Phillips ventured further forward than he otherwise would for Leeds, as illustrated by the graphic below:
Despite seeing the ball in his own half slightly more often during his debut against Denmark earlier this month, Phillips still saw plenty of possession past the halfway line in England’s defensive formation.
For comparison, the Yorkshire Pirlo’s touches of the ball (below) during Leeds’ 4-3 win over Fulham show how deep he normally sits in Marcelo Bielsa’s system.
This also highlights how at Leeds, Phillips is given more freedom on the ball, whereas having a midfield partner on international duty restricts the area of the pitch he can preside over.
Leeds fans often reference Phillips when discussing the players who Bielsa has truly transformed since arriving at Elland Road in 2018. Prior to then, no one really knew what the midfielder’s best role was.
As a box-to-box midfielder, he contributed with several goals but failed to convince with his overall performances. Bielsa saw something in him that no one else did, and over the course of six weeks transformed him into the anchor we know and love today.
Subsequently, the Leeds boss is able to trust Phillips to single-handedly shield the backline, dropping back to form a back three when the full-backs push forward and winning the ball deep in his own half before using his passing range to forge opportunities at the other end of the pitch.
In stark contrast, Phillips faced criticism on social media for passing the ball backwards almost every time he gained possession against Wales - a habit that is hard to shake when England are utilising such a defensive formation.
There is a simple solution to this: commit more men forward. Play two central defenders. Allow Phillips to do his job without a holding midfield partner. He could become the midfield engine England were missing in the World Cup and Nations League semi-final defeats.
It is difficult to see Southgate changing his approach any time soon, and the chances of Phillips being given the authority he needs - when he is still such a new acquisition to the national team - are low at best. However, it is clear that the player Southgate has watched on multiple occasions at Elland Road is unable to perform at the same level at Wembley, so long as this tactic is used.
Is Phillips being misused by Gareth Southgate?
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What do you think of the way Phillips is utilised by Gareth Southgate? How have you rated his performances in an England shirt so far? Let us know your thoughts @ThruItAllLUFC as well as voting in the poll above.