KAlvin Phillips needs little encouragement to look back on the exhilarating, dizzying summer evening that transpired in England’s last clash with Germany. They rode a wave at Euro 2020, and so did he: it was only the midfielder’s 10th cap and after a tentative start, he displayed the kind of dogged, driving performance that had so quickly become a fixture of the national side .
“It was an incredible day,” he said of the 2-0 win at Wembley. “I still have memories of it and the reaction afterwards. It was one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of; Hopefully we can play the same game in the next few days and get another good result.”
That doesn’t extend beyond England, although performances in Budapest on Saturday suggested otherwise. Phillips, 26, had little time to arrive in Hungary as a late substitute but is expected to play against Hansi Flick’s side from the start. While he roared into the EM, this time it feels more like a standing start.
Last year Phillips arrived after an outstanding personal and collective season with a Leeds side that won hearts under Marcelo Bielsa; The backdrop to this summer’s Nations League challenges was a relegation battle that came within a hair’s breadth and a campaign in which he missed 16 games with hamstring problems.
“Obviously we played really well as a team last season and [this time] We’ve had some rough patches with results,” he says. “I think I read a stat the other day that said Leeds had the most injured players out of the season. But in the end it was worth it, we stayed upstairs and that was a great feeling too.”
Chances are he will channel it forever. If you don’t count the penalty shoot-out loss to Italy, the loss to Hungary was his first as an English player. Given that he spent 11 minutes on the pitch, it was hard to lose an unbeaten record that had lasted 19 appearances. Phillips has become crucial to Gareth Southgate’s plans and it was easy to see why at Puskas Arena. England struggled in midfield for most of the evening; Jude Bellingham, who would be better used in a three-pointer than a two-pointer, seemed lost at times and the dynamic influence Phillips can exert alongside Declan Rice was glaringly evident in his absence.
A competent but hardly outstanding Hungarian side made it clear that England aren’t good enough to assume they can stutter through games while a few notches below their best. “I think the performance is kind of eye-opening,” says Phillips. “We know that going to the World Cup or the next couple of games isn’t going to be a piece of cake. We know we’re going to face difficult teams who will defend us well.
“I think Germany is the complete opposite. They will attack us, try to get in behind us and create a lot of chances. As long as we defend well, I don’t think we have a problem.”
It was an analysis that slightly downplayed a smart, proactive outing by the Hungarians. Nobody could seriously argue that England had their backline in overdrive. But England need to walk a line between playing opportunity alongside their opponents on Tuesday; A full house at the Allianz Arena in Munich will have its own intense advantage as this game rarely has anything else.
The stakes will feel higher. On the pitch, Germany are in reasonable form after draws in Italy and in March in the Netherlands. Before that, they had won eight games in a row, albeit against more modest opponents; The desolate end of Joachim Löw’s reign at Wembley Stadium has turned the page.
For Phillips, all old results come second to fend off the rejuvenated enemy in front of them. “We’d like to go there, win the game and not have to worry about beating them because of the story and things like that,” he says. “But every time we play Germany, it’s going to be a big game.”
Phillips has shown he can handle it. He doesn’t entirely dismiss the notion that England’s players are tired at the end of such an unnerving domestic season – “You could say that, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse” – but there will be no explanation for a failure to be well prepared arrive in Qatar.
“We want to be on the road to success before the World Cup,” he says. England have the best chance of doing so when Phillips and Rice work together to cover every blade of grass and provide the defensive conscience required in close encounters. Recapturing that feeling of 12 months ago would indeed be very timely for the player and team.