Kalvin Phillips leads the way as England show promising signs of solving age-old problem in Croatia
ngland still does not have a Luka Modric. But at Kalvin Phillips, they have a midfielder who is both a disruptor and a director – and a player who may well be the main difference between the Class of 2021 and the World Cup semi-finalists of him. three years ago.
Phillips’ quality and confidence on seemingly any stage will come as no surprise to Leeds fans, who have seen him move from the Championship to the Premier League without interrupting his stride.
He’s been consistent each time for England – but in a major tournament, playing at Wembley, it was particularly impressive.
It was his decision to break the lines after 57 minutes that put England on the path to victory that saw him set foot in the round of 16.
Driving from the right, he dragged the Croatian defenders out of form before applying a perfectly weighted pass into the space Sterling rushed into.
The Manchester City forward passed Dominik Livakovic to score three points in Group D.
Sterling was impressive beyond his target, causing panic in Croatia’s defense with their runs behind as England got off to a blazing start. He also prepared Phil Foden for an early opportunity that hit the post.
But it was Phillips’ influence in an area of the pitch where England were so punished in Russia that stood out.
The metronomic passage of Modric and Ivan Rakitic had made the Three Lions dizzy in the semi-final. Rakitic is no longer with the Croats, but they still have players who control the ball with aplomb and will grab matches at will.
Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic are the type of players English football still doesn’t produce. They had their moments – namely from around half an hour to England’s goal – after weathering an early storm.
Still, Phillips – backed by the boundless energy of Mason Mount – assured that they would not be allowed to rely on that control.
Phillips had previously forced Croatia to retreat with an early volley that was saved – and he was always the player who pushed England forward.
Despite what you may have heard, he’s not the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ yet, but he could be a central figure in the England midfielder with the kind of poise on the ball that one expects from him. ‘a player of Marcelo Bielsa and the necessary energy influences even in the sweltering heat of this match.
It was a performance that helped answer some of the questions put to England ahead of this tournament.
Everyone from Jose Mourinho to fans who flock to London on trains from across the country have had their say on how to line up at the start of his Euro campaign.
But no one would have predicted the XI chosen by Southgate, who saw Kieran Trippier at left-back, with Jack Grealish on the bench alongside Marcus Rashford. Jadon Sancho and Ben Chilwell weren’t even part of the 23-man squad.
The inclusion of Sterling confirmed the growing theory that Southgate would trust the Town forward despite his plummeting club form.
This selection dominated the pre-match debate, but now it was time for the talks to end and for England to provide the first signs that they came from the squad that lifted a nation to the Cup. world, but was ultimately discovered by the passing of the Croatia masterclass which shed light on the secular deficiencies that have plagued the Three Lions.
It was therefore instructive that their first opponents in these Euros were the team that killed their hopes in Russia. Croatia are no longer the team they were three years ago. Above all, neither does England.
Players like Foden, Mount, Grealish and Phillips are much more comfortable in possession than their predecessors. The hope is that they can control the midfield area in a way that has so often eluded them against the best teams on the international stage.
Early signs were good as England threatened to overtake Croatia, with Foden hitting the post after five minutes and Sterling finding space behind. Phillips and Mount led the proceedings as England took matters into their own hands.
But like in Russia three years ago, there were worrying signs as they lost their momentum and inspiration after a brilliant start.
Harry Kane couldn’t get into the game, Foden’s influence weakened and Croatia started to slow down, without providing much of a threat themselves.
Southgate charged this team with pace and energy, which is why it was strange to see them sometimes so passive.
When they picked up the pace in the final third, Croatia struggled to keep up.
This was evident with Sterling’s goal and the contribution of Phillips, who is one of the lesser-publicized members of the Southgate squad, but could be essential.
Not a good start for the hopes of the English captain to win the Golden Shoe.
Compare this match to Belgium’s against Russia, where Romelu Lukaku struck twice to take the lead for the top scorer.
It’s not the first time Kane has fallen deep to help with the preparation, but England surely have enough creative strength to allow him to focus on securing goals.
We know how good he is as No 9 and No 10 – but it’s not Tottenham.
England have enough quality to allow their deadliest finisher to focus on this.
The English Euro seems doomed to be dominated by the debate on right-backs.
From Southgate naming four – four! – in his initial squad, to the drama surrounding Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury which forced the Liverpool defender to step down, it was impossible to get away from the topic.
And just in case the nation risked moving on, Southgate opted to name a starting XI with two right-backs – making the bewildering decision to play Trippier on the left.
This call was all the more special, given that Trippier has arguably been England’s best right-back over the past season, while his inclusion meant the absence of Luke Shaw – arguably one of England’s best players. in any position during the same period.
It will be fascinating to see if Southgate finds an excuse to nominate Reece James, along with Kyle Walker and Trippier, against Scotland.