Thursday, October 6, 2022

Kalvin Phillips injury: Possible England replacements Gareth Southgate could call for the Man City midfielder

With the international break beginning Monday, Gareth Southgate will need to take a deeper look into his midfield ranks than expected as Kalvin Phillips could need shoulder surgery. While Phillips appeared in Manchester City’s midweek victory over Borussia Dortmund, but he wasn’t available for the team’s 3-0 victory over Wolves Saturday due to the injury. If Phillips needs surgery it would put his participation in doubt for the World Cup with the Three Lions. 

Since joining Manchester City from Leeds United, Phillips hasn’t had much playing time, only logging 13 minutes for Pep Guardiola’s side. Due to injuries, he has only made the squad in four matches this season after being a mainstay during his time at Leeds United. Injuries have always been a bit of a concern for Phillips as he has missed 23 games over the past three seasons due to various knocks. It’s unknown if this is an injury to the same shoulder that he injured in October of 2020 but if so, that could cause possible chronic issues down the road.

This shoulder injury is quite the blow for the national team where Phillips has established himself as a trusted midfielder under Southgate. Declan Rice can bring similar qualities to Phillips in the center of the park but having both gives Southgate defensive solidity to play his best attackers and keep his wing backs forward. The other midfielders in the England squad are Mason Mount, James Ward-Prowse, and Jude Bellingham who are all attacking options, so Southgate will need to add a defensive midfielder but with Jordan Henderson injured, his options are quite limited.

The best option in the squad

Sticking with who Southgate has available, Ward-Prowse has the best option to sit next to rice. While Ward-Prowse gets most of his plaudits for what he does from dead ball scenarios, the work that he does in the open field is critical to making the Saints tick. Winning 14 tackles, Ward-Prowse is able to quickly turn possession won into attacking plays and like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, has been versatile playing as a ten, right back, and defensive midfielder.

Bellingham can do similar things to Ward-Prowse but he hasn’t been utilized in the same way as Ward-Prowse in Germany with Borussia Dortmund. Due to Dortmund playing an open style, Bellingham doesn’t have as many defensive responsibilities as Ward-Prowse under Ralph Hasenhuttl.

The possible replacements

The Chelsea duo of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Conor Gallagher are the most likely options to be added to the squad but they have been in middling form this season. Loftus-Cheek has been used as a central midfielder and a wing back for Chelsea which could increase his value due to his versatility for Southgate, but he doesn’t bring as much going forward as Phillips, only creating three chances in the league with over 400 minutes played.

Gallagher has struggled for playing time but has been as creative as Loftus-Cheek in only 159 minutes of Premier League soccer. For Gallagher, his issue is what he does without the ball as he has picked up a red card suspension already this season due to collecting two yellows in a match. If Gallagher was able to clean up the disciplinary side of things, he’d likely already be in this squad as he’d be playing more minutes for Chelsea as well. Oliver Skipp is the other name that comes to mind but he has yet to make an appearance for Spurs this season after recovering from his own long term injury. Skipp will be with the England U-21 squad during this window so he won’t be far from Southgate’s eye. The number of Chelsea midfielders around the squad also means that Southgate will be keeping a close eye on how Graham Potter sets up the team after the international break as well.

The reality is that for England the cupboard is disturbingly bare at midfield.

Going outside the box

Considering the lack of defensive midfielders available to Southgate, this international window could be a chance for him to get creative. In matches against lopsided opposition, Southgate has played Mason Mount alongside Rice to push the pace in possession and that could be an option at the World Cup against Wales and Iran. While it makes the team defense weaker, it could overpower teams instead of playing Mount as a ten or winger in front of two defensive midfielders (or a defensive midfielder and Bellingham). While Southgate has stuck to a 3-4-3 in bigger competitions, Mount could make a lot of sense in a 4-3-3 which the team has experimented with at times.

With four right backs in the squad, testing Reece James in midfield could be an option as Kyle Walker or one of the center backs can deputize in a back three while Trent Alexander-Arnold can play as the natural right back in Nations League matches. James hasn’t played in midfield regularly since his time at Wigan in the 2018-19 season but considering his advanced roles for Chelsea, he could likely perform there in a pinch.

John Stones has also been used as a defensive midfielder at times sliding from right back to that position during City’s Champions League match against Dortmund. While it was just to close out a match, due to City’s strength in possession, their center backs are able to get forward and push possession like midfielders on most teams. Stones would be an unlikely midfielder for Southgate but when pickings get this slim, there are worse options.

Figuring out his options will be an important scenario for Southgate during this international window that will see England play Nations League matches against Italy and Germany. The Three Lions will face quality opposition so these matches can be treated as World Cup tune ups but with it being the last international break before the squad heads to Qatar, time isn’t on Southgate’s side.

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