Will Kalvin Phillips start England's Euros opener? Spotlight on Leeds United star's Romania display and Gareth Southgate's midfield options

LEEDS United star Kalvin Phillips should have every chance of starting England's opening fixture of this summer's Euros based on both circumstance and his latest display for the Three Lions.

Monday, 7th June 2021, 3:15 pm

United's Yorkshire Pirlo came back into the Three Lions starting XI for Sunday's friendly against Romania at the Riverside having been an unused substitute in last Wednesday's 1-0 victory against Austria, also at the Riverside.

West Ham's Declan Rice partnered Borussia Dortmund teenage star Jude Bellingham in the middle of the park against the Austrians before both Southampton's James-Ward Prowse and Brighton's Ben White were handed minutes in the middle of the park in the second half.

Phillips has only recently recovered from a dislocated shoulder and stayed on the bench but the 25-year-old came back into the XI against Romania as part of a centre midfield axis alongside Ward-Prowse.

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BACK IN THE SIDE: Leeds United's England international midfielder Kalvin Phillips takes a knee before Sunday's friendly against Romania at the Riverside. Picture by Lee Smith/PA Wire.

The Saints midfielder produced an impressive performance that must have at least given Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate food for thought when it came to choosing a replacement for injured Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold in his final 26-man squad.

Instead, Southgate opted to select White who also impressed against Romania at centre-back but can also play in centre midfield.

With Ward-Prowse not heading to the Euros, it means that Southgate essentially has five centre midfield options within his final squad in Phillips, Rice, Bellingham, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and also White.

The tally of options is increased to six if including Chelsea's Mason Mount who has been used a central midfielder as opposed to a no 10 when England line up with a three-man defence and two wing backs.

In those instances, the no 10 position is essentially sacrificed leaving two players either side of a lone striker but still in front of two men in the middle of the park.

But with Harry Maguire out injured, Southgate has gone with a back four of late meaning two centre midfielders behind a no 10 as part of a front four so it will likely be two from the above list to start in centre midfield - in addition to a 10 such as Mount.

White is also clearly a natural centre back and the picture with Henderson is complicated given that the Liverpool captain is still on the comeback trail having suffered a groin injury in February's Merseyside derby.

A fully fit Henderson would probably start for the Three Lions but the 30-year-old was handed his first competitive minutes since February when replacing Phillips during the interval of Sunday's clash against Romania.

Henderson produced a solid enough display after coming on, albeit whilst also missing a penalty and the Reds captain often tried to get forwards.

But there must be a doubt about Henderson coming straight back into the side to start Sunday's Euros opener against Croatia at Wembley.

As such, it could be two from three out of Phillips, Rice and Bellingham and Bellingham was brought on into a more advanced and attacking role when introduced in the 65th minute against Romania alongside Rice as Ward-Prowse and Jadon Sancho came off.

It might be that Bellingham is seen as more of an attacking option and Phillips has probably done enough to start against Croatia given the Henderson situation, unless the England boss opts for a more attacking second centre midfielder such as Chelsea's Mason Mount perhaps - or Bellingham.

Chelsea and Manchester City's England internationals have all been absent from England's last two friendlies due to being given time to recover from the Champions League final and there is the option for Southgate to field either Rice, Phillips or Henderson as a holding midfielder with a more attacking centre midfielder such as Mount ahead of them and behind a no 10.

But that would be an extremely attacking line up that could leave the Three Lions exposed and England's last competitive outing should naturally provide the biggest clue.

In March's World Cup qualifier at home to Poland, Southgate started Rice and Phillips behind Mount who played as a no 10 with Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden either side of Harry Kane upfront.

That might well be the system Southgate opts for, albeit with potentially different personnel, and Phillips did his claims to start no harm at all in his first half display against Romania.

The Whites midfielder sat just behind Ward-Prowse, almost in his natural central defensive midfield role whereas when Phillips and Rice line up together, Phillips often pushes slightly further forward, almost as a no 8.

But against Romania the Whites midfielder basically did what he does best in terms of either winning or receiving the ball in front of the back line and then very rarely losing possession thereafter.

A lot of his passes against Romania were uncomplicated, short and crisp but there were two superb cross-field and raking diagonal passes to Sancho on the right flank.

Both passes created openings which were wasted as Sancho fired well wide following the first Phillips offering and Ben Godfrey then sliced an effort well off the mark after being played in by Sancho after the second pass.

Phillips himself had an attempt at goal in the eighth minute but the less said about his long range volley the better as his ambitious effort was sent into orbit.

England were also left exposed at times during the first half when Romania countered but the problem was arguably even worse in the second period and all in all Phillips produced a solid shift.

The midfielder pressed at every opportunity and appeared in decent nick fitness wise upon what was his first outing since dislocating his shoulder in United's season finale against West Brom.

Southgate likes Phillips and knows what he gets with him and really everything now depends on what system the England boss opts for against Romania, and throughout the Euros.

If it's one out of Rice and Philips then Rice might well get the nod given that he has nine more caps to his name - despite his younger years - and there is also the Henderson situation to consider too.

But as things stand, there appears every chance that United's England international midfielder will start the first game of the Euros having made rapid progress up to the Three Lions ranks in very quick time.

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Thank you Laura Collins