While Liverpool have had a centre back crisis this season, Leanne Prescott writes that Nat Phillips has not disappointed when called upon…

 

NAT Phillips has had quite the season, hasn’t he?

A dead cert to leave Liverpool in the summer, tipped to make the switch to Germany a permanent one having completed a loan move to Stuttgart the year before, he is now playing a valuable role in the club’s pursuit of a top-four finish and Champions League glory.

With Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip ruled out for the season, and the midfield stand-ins in Fabinho and Jordan Henderson also suffering setbacks, Phillips has come into his own, quietly emerging amidst the chaos.

A turnaround few could’ve predicted just six months ago, to have responded to being thrown into the deep end this season having only had a handful of experience of first-team football previously, deserves immense credit.

He may not make headlines, possess the passing range of Van Dijk, or the pace of Joe Gomez, but he has barely put a foot wrong when called upon.

A consistent performer in trying circumstances, he has helped alleviate Klopp’s centre-back nightmare.

He was the standout player on his Premier League debut against West Ham back in October. He was faultless when called upon at half-time against Spurs and was one of few positives in the defeat to Everton.

There are limitations to his game, his lack of pace being one, but in Phillips, The Reds have a no-frills centre back who attacks the ball with aggression and whose shaved head has seen him transform from a university student who just rolled out of bed to a mean Martin Skrtel lookalike.

Sheffield United 0 Liverpool 2: Liverpool's Nathaniel Phillips (R) and Ozan Kabak (L) during the FA Premier League match between Sheffield United FC and Liverpool FC at Bramall Lane

Not messing with him, me.

Sunday’s win over Sheffield United was indicative of his old school style; an authoritative, aerially dominant figure keeping things simple and utilising his physicality to ensure The Reds remained on the front foot.

There will be harder challenges to face, but it was another composed performance from the 23-year-old alongside his latest partner in Ozan Kabak, the 18th defensive partnership this season and the club’s first clean sheet since the draw against Manchester United in January.

On the evidence of his performances, it would be harsh to drop him from the starting 11 against Chelsea, and with Fabinho returning from injury, his form could enable the Brazilian to slot back into midfield on occasion.

Doing so would give Klopp valuable options for the games ahead, with Gini Wijnaldum afforded a well-earned rest and Thiago granted more freedom going forward.

Having had one foot out the door in the summer, few could’ve predicted the situation Nat Phillips would find himself in this season, and while opportunities have been down purely to circumstance, he has seized his chance with both hands.

Whether he has a long-term future at Liverpool remains to be seen, but you couldn’t ask for more from him this season.

He’s stood up and been counted, helping to alleviate the centre-back crisis when The Reds needed it most.


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