James-Ward Prowse and Kalvin Phillips went head-to-head in an audition for Gareth Southgate’s England World Cup squad – with Southampton midfielder’s superb free-kick pressing his claim after Euro 2020 chop
- Southampton held Leeds to a 1-1 draw in the Premier League on Saturday
- England duo Kalvin Phillips and James Ward-Prowse both featured in the game
- The midfielders could be battling it out for a place on the plane to Qatar 2022
So now we know the path that England must tread in Qatar. All that needs clarifying? Who will be on that journey.
Over to you, Gareth. Not an enviable task, is it? Not when plenty of awkward phone calls await.
James Ward-Prowse knows how those conversations can go. He was among those chopped from Southgate’s squad ahead of Euro 2020.
Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips faced each other on Saturday
The two midfielders could face a battle for a place in Gareth Southgate’s Qatar 2022 squad
Leeds united (4-2-3-1): Meslier 7.5; Ayling 7 (Struijk 89min), Llorente 6.5, Cooper 6, Dallas 6.5; Klich 7 (Phillips 66, 7), Forshaw 7; Raphinha 7, Rodrigo 7.5, Harrison 7.5, James 6 (Gelhardt 59, 6.5). Scorer: Harrison 29. Booked: Ayling, Marsch. Manager: Jesse Marsch 6.5
Southampton (4-3-3): Forster 6.5; Livramento 6, Bednarek 6, Salisu 6.5, Walker-Peters 7.5; Ward-Prowse 8, Romeu 6.5 (S Armstrong 64, 6), Diallo 6.5; Elyounoussi 6.5, Broja 6 (Long 90), Adams 6.5 (Tella, 87). Scorer: Ward-Prowse 49. Booked: Elyounoussi. Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl 6.5.
Referee: Anthony Taylor 6.5.
Seven months out from the World Cup, the Southampton skipper lingers in purgatory. Days like this could prove pivotal in deciding his fate.
At full time, after another sumptuous free-kick rescued a point, it was his name that rang out from the away end at Elland Road. ‘He deserves to be part of the English international team,’ Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl later insisted.
Earlier, though, Leeds had welcomed back Kalvin Phillips after four months out.
It seems inevitable that those two midfielders’ fortunes will remain entwined.
Phillips was one of Southgate’s five central midfielders last summer, alongside Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount and Jude Bellingham.
The 26-year-old started every game and will not lack credit in the bank. But Ward-Prowse is growing increasingly difficult to ignore. Cruel, perhaps, but it will surely be one from two.
In October, the Southampton midfielder replaced Phillips in the England squad after injury struck. Cap number 10 arrived last week with Phillips out once more. Now the Leeds fulcrum is back, who should Southgate pick?
The numbers confirm what the eye can see: Ward-Prowse is a greater attacking threat, Phillips offers more going the other way.
Since the start of last season, the Southampton midfielder has racked up 15 goals and 11 assists. Phillips? One goal, three assists.
Stats say James Ward-Prowse is one of the best free-kick takers in Premier League history
Phillips (L) has made just two appearances for Leeds since returning from a hamstring injury
Ward-Prowse has created more chances and passed more accurately, too. Across the board he stacks up well against his midfield rivals.
Phillips’s importance to Leeds and England is laid bare elsewhere. He is superior at stifling opposition attacks and winning back possession. Statistics only help so much, though. For any common threads running through England, Southampton and Leeds, each team has a distinctive style and set-up.
Then there are the more intangible qualities. ‘You can see his poise, the confidence he brings to the group,’ Leeds boss Jesse Marsch said of Phillips after this 24-minute run out. ‘He came on the pitch and really settled things down for us.’
Since returning to the Premier League, Leeds have lost nearly two-thirds of the matches Phillips has not started. England benefit from his calm industry, too.
Ward-Prowse celebrates with his teammates after scoring his seventh league goal this year
‘I’m sure Gareth saw the fact he played today and was really happy,’ Marsch added.
At 26, and under new management, there is still plenty of room for Phillips to grow. Marsch wants to turn him into more of a leader.
‘Kalvin’s presence, his work ethic, his desire to learn, they’re fantastic,’ the American said. ‘My goal is to expand his role from a leadership perspective.’
That is one area where Ward-Prowse will not be found wanting.
‘When you see the history of my captains,’ Hasenhuttl said, ‘they are always players who are not only talking in the dressing room, they are going forward on the pitch and being a role model.’ Ward-Prowse’s galvanising effect on Southampton, obvious again on Saturday, will not show up in the numbers.
But two other, crucial attributes do. What more is left to say about his delivery from set pieces? Except, perhaps, to point out that now only David Beckham (18) has scored more Premier League free-kicks than Ward-Prowse (13).
Leeds manager Jesse Marsch says Phillips’ ‘work ethic’ and ‘desire to learn’ are fantastic
Hasenhuttl claimed the midfielder’s efforts are becoming harder to read, too.
The manager also highlighted Ward-Prowse’s physical power. No Southampton player has amassed more Premier League minutes than the 27-year-old this season.
‘It’s no coincidence,’ Hasenhuttl said. ‘He’s physically unbelievably strong — three games in a week over 90 or 120 minutes are not a problem for him.’
After Phillips’ hamstring problem, his body will need to be carefully managed. But is Marsch bothered about England?
Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl praised Ward-Prowse as ‘physically unbelievably strong’
‘I care about England a lot now they are in the same group as the USA,’ he joked.
The 48-year-old was assistant coach when the teams met at the 2010 World Cup. ‘They don’t need my help,’ Marsch said. ‘We didn’t do much scouting. Everybody in the world knows those players.’
Now it is up to Southgate to pick the right ones.
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