Gareth Southgate’s “unheralded force” here to stay after England’s win over Croatia

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It was not just the peachy assist, fashioned by world-class movement, technique and vision.

It was not just his ability to unerringly find a team-mate with a pass, long or short. The pass, not the team-mate, that is.

It was not just his phenomenal work-rate and robustness in the challenge, as fierce late as it was early.

Kalvin Phillips, nine games into his international career, pretty much ran England’s show.

Unassuming, unfussy and, let’s face it, relatively unheralded outside Elland Road, Phillips will be an England force for years to come.

Kalvin Phillips played a starring role in England's win over Croatia

And if you had listened carefully to Gareth Southgate over the past ten months, you would already have known that.

But if you did not, here was the landmark performance.

While Phil Foden’s curler against the post caught the first half eye, Phillips, 25, was the contest’s dominant operator.

This is a footballer who simply does the job he is assigned to do.

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His reading of a cagey game was first-class – that is why he made so many telling interventions, particularly in the first half.

Phillips is someone who sees the big picture.

And when he makes those interventions, they normally stick because of his physicality.

Some credit for that must go to Marcelo Bielsa and his Murderball training regime.

Gareth Southgate got the big decisions correct as England got off to a winning start

Soon after arriving in Leeds, Bielsa identified Phillips as one player being in need of an individual programme.

Being put in a personal boot camp by Bielsa cannot be a barrel of laughs and that is why Phillips deserves the praise that has come his way.

His attitude is obviously spot-on.

It was also Bielsa who decided Phillips should operate, primarily, as a defensive midfielder.

When Bielsa handed out his squad numbers, Phillips expected an eight and got a four.

He has not had many fours since.

Pre-Bielsa, Phillips had seen himself as a box-to-box midfielder and, for Southgate and England, that is what he will surely become, certainly in particular matches.

When the team was announced, some bemoaned the presence of two holding midfielders, but Phillips is much more than a holding midfielder.

He sees openings, for a start. Twice in the first half, he sent long-range passes into the path of Kyle Walker that should have signalled danger.

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That Walker appeared to have put his boots on the wrong feet was not Phillips’ fault.

And while these sorts of statistics can often tell a deceptive tale, a 94 percent passing accuracy for Phillips is pretty impressive.

Indeed, if you like those types of things, there was also 100 percent long-ball accuracy, 100 percent through-ball accuracy and a chart-topping seven ball recoveries.

Oh, and 44 touches and one attempt on target.

It was Phillips' committed run which created the only goal of a tight game

How far can England really go this summer? Let us know in the comments

Alternatively, you could have just watched the game without your smartphone and realised he is a player.

You could have just watched England’s winning goal and realised he is a player.

Do not underestimate the pass from John Stones, by the way. That is what Stones brings to proceedings, ambition with his distribution.

Phillips did not underestimate it, instantly realising that by not taking a touch, he would evade the first Croatian challenge.

With that job done, it was a sharp turn inside with a touch from the right boot and then a left-footed pass that did justice to Raheem Sterling’s clever run.

It was the slickest passage of play in the match and Phillips was at the heart of it.

But then again, he was at the heart of most things that England did well in this thoroughly satisfactory opener.

And if England go deep into this tournament, you can bet he will be at the heart of their challenge.

For those who believe the inclusion of Declan Rice AND Phillips is too negative, tough.

They are here to stay.

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