Leeds United fans were left frustrated on Saturday when Kalvin Phillips failed to earn his debut cap for England in the 1-0 win against Iceland.
Although it was a victory for the Three Lions in their opening UEFA Nations League campaign, it was by no means a convincing performance with Gareth Southgate clearly getting his team selection wrong against a team his side should be winning comfortably against.
One of the big issues was Southgate’s decision to play Declan Rice at the base of his midfield over Phillips, who would have had a far greater influence on England’s lacklustre attacking play if he featured.
Stats by WyScout show that Rice completed 69 passes in the win over Iceland but only 18 of those passes went forward.
As the image shows below, Rice’s forward passes were hardly adventurous either, with only three long-range passes finding their target and the rest just being short passes out towards the left-wing.
The next image shows the forward passes that Phillips made in his last appearance of last season when Leeds won 1-0 away at Swansea City.
Even though that was a much more closely contested match than England versus Iceland, 14 of Phillips’ 33 completed passes went forward.
As shown below, Phillips’ forward passes were a lot rangier than Rice’s in Reykjavik with the Leeds midfielder spraying the ball out in all different directions.
Even his inaccurate passes were encouraging and attack-minded.
In all competitions last season, Rice attempted 6.74 passes into the final third per 90 minutes of game-time while Phillips averaged 7.79.
Rice also averaged 12.63 forward passes per 90 minutes to Phillips’ 14.89.
Of course, there is more to being a defensive midfielder than just passing the ball forward and launching attacks from a deeper part of the pitch.
But when you’re playing a team like Iceland – who England should have beat a lot easier than they did – Southgate has to be going for more attack-minded players in all positions.
Rice wasn’t needed against Iceland with him involved in just two defensive duels in the game.
The West Ham man might be more solid defensively than Phillips due to him spending a lot of his early career as a centre-back.
But why not slot Rice back into the back-four for matches like this and let Phillips play in front of him?
Denmark are up next for England as Southgate’s men travel to Copenhagen for their second Nations League match.
We hope that Phillips will at least earn a cap but based on the strength on the Danish side, Phillips really should be a starter.
In other Leeds United news, the Whites have rejected the chance to sign this player.