Risk and reward for Kalvin Phillips with England

Kalvin Phillips admits England need to show more courage as the European Championship enters its do-or-die phase and the Leeds United midfielder feels a personal responsibility to shake off his “new boy” mentality to help.

The Leeds-born player has been one of England’s best in the tournament so far, the only outfielder to feature in every minute.

Phillips sees his primary role as defensive and therefore takes great credit for that fact the Three Lions are yet to concede in their opening three games. On the other hand, they have only scored two – the first of which Phillips created – and he knows that has to improve.

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When asked what the team needed to get better at in tomorrow’s Wembley game against Germany, Phillips was quick to bring himself into the conversation.

England's Kalvin Phillips during a press conference at St George's Park on Sunday.
England's Kalvin Phillips during a press conference at St George's Park on Sunday.

“Be more confident when we’re on the ball maybe, take a few more risks – me personally as well,” he replied. “I feel like once we do start scoring we’ll get a few more.”

Phillips played his first two-and-a-half games as a “No 8” – a player who works between the defensive midfielder and the man in the hole of a 4-2-3-1 formation – but showed that when he moved deeper in the second half against Czech Republic he can actually have more of a creative influence.

At Leeds that is usually Phillips’s job and he is good at picking the ball up off the centre-backs with time and space to pick passes. Alongside Declan Rice in this tournament he has often dropped into the right-back slot to do that but without him there he can get it more centrally, opening up more passing options.

Having made his debut in September, Phillips will win only his 12th cap if he starts against Germany – something which looks likely but not guaranteed with Jordan Henderson proving his fitness against the Czechs.

Phillips admits being new to international football has inhibited him at times.

“I am a defensive midfield player but I love being on the ball,” he explained. “Regardless of whether I’m defending or attacking I want to do my best. I felt like I was new to the team and you feel like you don’t want to lose the ball in case anything happens, it’s in everyone’s head, no one wants to lose it and Germany go up the pitch and score. It’s just about being courageous, confident in yourself and positive as well. At Leeds I’m used to getting the ball deep and playing those long passes. I’m in a major tournament so I’ve got to show what I can do.

“(You need to) get yourself in a position where that ball has got to be a risky pass. Even in training, if I’ve got time to turn and play Harry Kane, Raheem (Sterling) or any of the attacking players I’ll try and do that.

“It’s about being courageous and positive when you get the ball so I’ve been trying to do that since I’ve been here. Hopefully with a few more games I can keep doing that.”

Manager Gareth Southgate has been criticised at times because with arguably more attacking talent at his disposal than most if not all of his predecessors, he has produced the team which won a European Championship group with the fewest number of goals scored (two in three matches).

Phillips thinks the criticism is unfair and irrelevant.

“He wants us to attack, to get goals and express ourselves when we have got the ball and when we haven’t,” said Phillips.

“Everyone says Gareth was a defender so his teams are very defensive but I feel like in the last three games we haven’t conceded a goal, which is good. If you’re like my club team where you maybe score five and concede four it’s probably not as good.

“We know we’ve not had many chances on goal, there’s not been many goals scored, but I feel like in these types of games it’s down to one chance, as in the win against Croatia and Czech Republic (both 1-0). If we can be clinical with those chances, it doesn’t really matter how many we create, as long as we win the game.”