And it looked as though the Brazilian, who has previously been without many injury concerns, would be able to do a more than capable job in the Dutchman’s absence, until Liverpool’s luck took yet another unexpected turn when Fabinho’s hamstring decided to give way at the worst possible time, leaving Jürgen Klopp with just one fit first-team centre-back in Joe Gomez.
So with just one recognised centre back to choose from, who did Jürgen Klopp turn to? Nat Phillips: the forgotten man who seemed set for the reserves. Yet, in the midst of a defensive crisis, that very same forgotten man has taken centre stage to quickly become memorable in the minds of on watching fans of the Premier League champions.
Nat Phillips: The Man Who Stepped Up Amid Injury Crises
From Forgotten Man to Unexpected Solution
Despite helping to guide Stuttgart to promotion back to the Bundesliga, opportunities seemed few and far between for Nat Phillips at Liverpool due to the almost impenetrable and title-winning partnership of van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
One man’s disappointment can soon turn into another’s opportunity, however, and one that must be taken. And take that opportunity is exactly what Phillips did take against West Ham United.
Is Phillips Good Enough to Fill in For the Absent Van Dijk?
The young Englishman was dominant in the air, pristine in his passing and turned caretaker like to mop up any signs of danger, earning Sky Sports’ Man of the Match award for his solidity within the new-look Liverpool back four.
Perhaps the question of whether Phillips is good enough to fill in for van Dijk comes prematurely after just one impressive outing, but the evidence of his ability, particularly aerially, was there in Liverpool’s victory to take them back to the top.
That evidence, of course, comes in the form of statics with the young defender crucially winning five out of eight aerial duels, the most in the game, alongside the making of two interceptions and nine clearances, again the most in the game.
Going into the West Ham game, many believed that 19-year-old Rhys Williams would be handed a first-ever Liverpool start after impressing from the bench in the Champions League. Yet it was Nat Phillips handed the opportunity and rightly so. The academy product has a wealth of experience in comparison to the younger Williams.
Experience in Germany the Key for Nat Phillips
Phillips’ time in Germany’s second division, where he helped guide his Stuttgart side to a Bundesliga return, would have done him a world of good and would have given him the platform to become Liverpool’s unlikely solution.
It certainly seems as though, in the absence of Fabinho, that Jürgen Klopp has found a reliable replacement. As the challenges come, it will certainly be interesting to seen how Phillips copes.
If the West Ham performance is anything to go by though, we can expect Jürgen Klopp’s mentality monsters to once again leap over a seemingly improbable hurdle with Phillips playing an unforeseen role in that.