West Ham United's Declan Rice and Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips 'most difficult' midfielders to play against says former England boss Fabio Capello
The distance West Ham United's Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United are willing to run for England make them the 'most difficult' midfielders to play against according to former Three Lions boss Fabio Capello.
Ahead of the quarter-final win over Ukraine, Phillips had covered the most distance of any England player and the 8.1km he ran in that game has him ranked 12th at Euro 2021 with 52km covered.
Only Koke of Spain has covered more ground in fewer minutes than the Whites midfielder, however. Up until the quarter-final Phillips was ever-present for England and was only withdrawn in the last game to protect him from a potential suspension ahead of the semi-final stage.
Much of the pre-tournament debate, going back months, surrounded the defensive midfielder slot and who, out of Rice and Phillips, should play. But Southgate has found a home for both of them in his side, employing the Hammer in the defensive holding position and Phillips further forward.
The pair, who up until now have kept Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson out of the starting XI, have struck up a solid partnership and formed a vital defensive foil for Gareth Southgate, in what is a new and effective rearguard strategy in Capello's estimation.
"Southgate surprised me with the style in which they're now defending," he said.
"[Previously] the style was the back four not pressing the people that receive the ball, but going back to their goal to defend the line, now they press immediately and it's really difficult [for the opposition] to get to the keeper."
Capello believes Rice and Phillips are integral to England's progress, which has taken them to the semi-finals against Denmark.
"[Rice is] a really, really important player," he said.
"Rice and Phillips are the most difficult midfielders to play against because they run a lot. When you have the ball it's good and the balance of England depends on these two players."
The former AC Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus and Russia manager is keen to see how Southgate's young side deal with the expectation that will be heaped upon them as the home side at Wembley, with just 90 minutes between them and the final of a major tournament.
"I want to see the young England team under pressure at Wembley, the reaction of the team," he added.