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Feature: The case for Kalvin Phillips’ international call up



Saturday the 7th of March may prove to be a seminal moment in the career of Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips, though he did not take the field at Elland Road.

The 24-year-old was missing due to a knee injury but watched on as the Whites beat Huddersfield Town 2-0 in the West Yorkshire derby, a result that saw them move back to the top of the Championship with just nine games to play.

That victory means that the opportunity to end their 16-year absence from the Premier League by winning the Championship title now rests in Leeds’ hands completely.

A lifelong Whites supporter who was born and raised in Leeds, Phillips will surely have dreamed of leading his hometown club back to the pinnacle of English football for most of his life, but could he be set to take another step up even before he kicks a ball in the English top-flight?

There seems to be little debate that the midfielder will be playing Premier League football next year, with or without Leeds, and if reports are to be believed he will not be short of suitors.

In all honesty, it is hard to see him leaving Elland Road if the Yorkshire club secure promotion but we may see him wearing a different shirt in the summer, one emblazoned with the Three Lions.

With Euro 2020 now just 95 days away, the England squad must nearly be fully formed inside the mind of manager Gareth Southgate but central midfield is an area where some question marks remain.

Southgate is not short of positive, ball-playing central midfielders – indeed, in that position, England have something of an embarrassment of riches.

Players like Jordan Henderson, James Maddison, Jack Grealish, and Mason Mount have all had impressive season’s in the Premier League, while the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dele Alli, Ross Barkley, and Harry Winks will feel they also have a strong case for inclusion.

However, defensive midfield remains a problem position. Back in October, England slipped to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Czech Republic and were overrun in midfield, failing to keep control of a game that they should have been dominant in.

Southgate seems to lack a player that can break up and dictate play, someone that can keep opposition playmakers quiet and launch attacks.

Indeed, England do not have a Sergio Busquets but they do have ‘the Yorkshire Pirlo’ and calls for Phillips’ inclusion in the international squad have now moved far beyond the stands at Elland Road.

Among those championing the 24-year-old’s England credentials is Danny Higginbotham, who has suggested he could be the answer for Southgate ahead of this summer’s tournament.

Anyone that has watched the Championship this season will be able to vouch for the level of his performances. As well as proving an integral part of Marcelo Bielsa’s possession-heavy style of play, Phillips has shut down almost every opposition playmaker he has faced and has even popped up with the odd goal as well.

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His statistics this season make for impressive reading. According to Wyscout, Phillips has a defensive duel success rate of 65.74%, averages 7.18 interceptions per every 30 opposition possessions, and averages 2.18 loose ball duels wins and 11.52 recoveries per 90 minutes.

In possession, the defensive midfielder averages 49.95 passes per game at a success rate of 84.8%, has provided 59 shot assists and has an xA of 5.69 to go with his two assists (Wyscout).

In terms of statistics, Phillips betters Declan Rice, the England midfielder that is most comparable to him, in most categories but faces the key issue that he plays at Championship level and has never featured in the Premier League.

That remains Southgate’s key dilemma – trusting a player that has never featured above the second tier of English football on the international stage would be a huge gamble.

Few players have got a call-up while playing for a side below the top flight but the precedent is certainly there.

In the last 25 years, Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Jay Bothroyd (QPR), David Nugent (Preston North End), Kevin Phillips (Sunderland) and Micky Gray (Sunderland) all made their debuts while playing permanently for sides below Premier League level.

The fact that none of those players went on to make more than eight appearances for England is hardly encouraging but you feel it would be unfair to let that impact the 24-year-old’s chances.

Phillips’ credentials need to be judged on the pitch, in the heat of battle. Southgate will have seen plenty of him in a Leeds shirt but he needs to give him an opportunity at international level – only then will he be able to tell whether taking Phillips to Euro 2020 is a risk that is worth taking.

The upcoming friendlies against Italy and Denmark seem like the perfect opportunity for him to do just that. Southgate has not shied away from making some big calls as England boss but giving the Leeds man a chance might just be his boldest.

Bristol-born, London-based sports journalist at Snack Media. University of Brighton and NA graduate

ScoopDragon Football News Network

Article title: Feature: The case for Kalvin Phillips’ international call up

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