It took just 90 minutes for Kalvin Phillips to flip a narrative completely on its head.
When England’s team sheet for Sunday’s meeting with Croatia was released, fans were fuming to see the Leeds United man starting alongside Declan Rice in midfield. It was so negative and obviously destined to fail.
Then Phillips went out and stole the show.
Given slightly more freedom than most expected, Phillips was outstanding at both ends of the field. He was his dominant self at the back, but the biggest surprise came at just how dangerous he was in attack.
Playing almost as high as Harry Kane at times, the 25-year-old flashed some excellent vision and timing, seemingly knowing where to position himself at all times.
Phillips had some impressive shots on goal, but impressed even more with his vision and creativity. He was just as creative as Mason Mount and popped up with an excellent assist for Raheem Sterling’s winner.
On what was his first ever appearance at a major tournament, Phillips absolutely smashed it from start to finish. Questions about his inclusion were gone, and in their place were demands over his spot in the coming games.
Phillips deserves an enormous amount of praise for putting in this kind of performance on the biggest stage, but let’s not forget about Gareth Southgate. The boss will have known the kind of criticism that would come his way by starting Phillips, but he won’t care anymore.
Southgate is hung out to dry quite a lot for his tactics (and deservedly so, at times), but he got this one spot on. Phillips offered something that nobody else in the squad could, and he romped around a midfield trio – Marcelo Brozovic, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic – that many see as one of the best on the planet.
To expect Phillips to play every minute of the tournament is unrealistic, but the Leeds man has to be in the starting lineup whenever he is physically capable of doing so. He deserves that, no questions asked.
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