The Leeds United experiences that underpinned under-the-radar Kalvin Phillips' successful tightrope walk for England against Ukraine

Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips' 65-minute tightrope walk against Ukraine in Rome was not his first time at the rodeo.

Sunday, 4th July 2021, 12:40 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th July 2021, 12:44 pm
JOB DONE - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips played 65 minutes of England's 4-0 win over Ukraine in the Euro 2020 quarter-final. Pic: Getty
JOB DONE - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips played 65 minutes of England's 4-0 win over Ukraine in the Euro 2020 quarter-final. Pic: Getty

Neither was it the first time the 25-year-old has gone under the radar.

One year ago yesterday Phillips was standing over a free-kick that he duly curled over the wall and into the top corner of the net at an empty Ewood Park to help Leeds beat Blackburn Rovers 3-1.

While it was starting to feel like he and Marcelo Bielsa's team were taking Leeds United home, he was still very much a Championship player, uncapped and therefore outside the bubble of many top flight and England supporters' consciousness and conversation.

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Today he stands a significant part of why so many across the country believe it's coming home and, thanks to his discipline in a 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine, he remains available for England's penultimate major tournament hurdle - a semi-final against Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday night.

There was always a chance that, as a combative midfielder and part of the all-action wall Gareth Southgate has constructed in front of his back line, Phillips could pick up a second yellow of Euro 2020 and be denied a chance to experience what will be a truly special occasion this week.

He's played on the edge so many times for Bielsa, however, that by now it must be second nature.

Against Nottingham Forest at Elland Road in 2019, he was yellow carded on 28 minutes and still managed to use all of his physicality to keep Tiago Silva in his back pocket.

“It was a great sign of maturity in Kalvin for him to play most of the match with a yellow card," said Bielsa afterwards.

"He never took any risks to leave the pitch."

Last season at Sheffield United he was booked on six minutes and played the occasion of a Yorkshire derby perfectly, making tackles, blocks and interceptions and contesting aerial balls without giving away a single other free-kick. It was a game that called for intensity and yet because it hung in the balance until the 88th minute, it required full concentration and discipline.

There were moments against Ukraine when Phillips pressed with intensity, moments when the temptation to stick a foot in and nick the ball must have been overwhelming, yet none of the four fouls conceded by England involved the Leeds man.

Without the crunching tackles seen in the Germany game and with little time spent on the ball before Declan Rice departed on 57 minutes, it would be forgivable if onlookers described Phillips' performance as quiet. But he was busy.

Whites fans will have noticed much of the work he did, not only because they pay special attention to one of their own but because what Phillips did was familiar to them.

Along with the pressing, he made run after run off the ball to give team-mates options ahead of them, popping up on both sides of the pitch.

When England were playing out from their own half, Phillips would move away from the ball carrier, creating space for them to move into and time to make decisions. There was a fair bit of orchestrating too, indicating where the ball should go next.

It was reminiscent of the role he played in getting Leeds back into the game at Elland Road against Manchester City.

What he helped give England was control and a solid base from which to go and play. The attackers did the rest, taking complete charge by the 50-minute mark with a 3-0 lead.

The two goals early in the second half ended it as a contest, taking the sting out of Ukraine and with Rice going off, Phillips began to get more involved in possession, alongside Jordan Henderson in the middle.

With half an hour to go he was starting to dictate, finally able to look up and spray a diagonal ball out to the right wing for Mason Mount

But with a yellow card and potential suspension for the semi-final looming over him, Southgate took the decision to remove the Leeds man for the final 25 minutes.

It cannot have gone unnoticed that, five minutes after his exit, England grip on proceedings lessened slightly and Ukraine were at long last able to threaten through the middle of the pitch on a couple of occasions.

The Italian job was done, however and done well. Phillips' level of influence in games during England's march to the semi-final has waxed and waned but never vanished.

This, in light of a potential suspension, was a different kind of test and yet another he passed with flying colours.