Nat Phillips unlikely to increase Liverpool’s importance despite unflattering comparison to Lionel Messi
If there is one person in the Liverpool camp who will fondly remember this season, it is Nat Phillips.
It was early October when it looked like his brief Anfield career was drawing to a close.
In the closing days of the transfer window, Phillips was expected to be the subject of great interest.
Bristol City were one of the clubs that had clearly expressed their admiration and the situation left many people thinking that the Bolton-born defender would be heading for the exit door.
Even if only temporarily.
This move, however, will not materialize.
With Klopp’s slim numbers on the ground at center-back, he would rule that Phillips should stay put for now, in case of injuries.
This decision would prove to be prophetic.
It’s a turn of events that Phillips has since admitted left him disappointed, but in a few weeks those frustrations would be forgotten as he prepared to make his Premier League debut.
“I was a little disappointed because I couldn’t wait to go play football and start my career, but obviously things have changed,” he said last week.
“And I don’t think anyone could have seen what was to come, and it was like a prime example of how weird football can be sometimes.”
Considering his importance to this Liverpool cause, there are only a few months left after his imminent departure, Phillips is absolutely right about the often stranger-than-fiction reality of football.
The reasons for his growing influence are well documented, of course, and Phillips is realistic enough to know that playing time would be fleeting had it not been for late-season injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez before. that Joel Matip does not suffer the same fate.
After all, the lack of opportunities was the driving factor in his desire to seek new pasture in October, but when the scenario changed, Phillips made sure he was ready to step up his efforts.
“He’s not nice to look at, he’s not Messi but who cares?” was the indirect and devious praise of the 23-year-old’s Jurgen Klopp after an impressive performance on his debut against West Ham.
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Phillips won’t be 24 until the end of the month, but he’s a player who learned his trade in the old school.
“In the air, he’s a monster!” Klopp added after the 2-1 win on October 31.
“He was amazing. For the first game I think anyone can imagine how nervous it must be after a long wait.”
More than accomplished in the air, Phillips has kept it simple in his eight Premier League games so far.
He even found himself as “the senior man” last week when he and Ozan Kabak formed Liverpool’s 18th different center-back duo in the 2-0 win over Sheffield United.
At only 20 years old, and new to English football, Kabak took the advantage over Phillips as they combined from a no-frills backline that has kept Liverpool’s lone clean sheet in their last nine games.
“You can see with Ozan’s performance that he fits in games,” Phillips recently said of his new teammate.
“I had a similar experience when I was playing in Germany last year on loan with Stuttgart to come back to play in the FA Cup derby against Everton.
“The first 15 or 20 minutes I was a little shocked because I had gotten used to the style of football and the way the game was played there.”
The Merseyside derby that Phillips is referring to, of course, was the game when he was fired from his loan with Stuttgart in the Bundesliga II to provide a defensive base for one of last season’s results.
A second string from Liverpool wiped out the threat of a practically complete Everton side in the FA Cup thanks to Curtis Jones’ wonderful second-half goal.
Phillips would later receive a trademark hug from Klopp before being sent back to Germany to resume his loan.
Phillips, it seems, is making a habit of answering unlikely calls at Anfield.
His value was underlined on Thursday night when the Liverpool team’s scoresheet fell and his name was not on it for Chelsea’s visit.
Questions began to arise about his absence and fears grew that he had become the latest to succumb to what has at times been a curse for Liverpool center-backs this quarter.
“Usually if you have options it makes you stronger, but it’s always the players who come back, when they’re back on the bench and they’re no longer injured,” was Klopp’s response to the return of Fabinho in place of Phillips. before kick-off Thursday.
“This is good and we have to make sure we try to use them as soon as possible.
“With Fab it was necessary because Nat was out, but that’s great news.”
Klopp’s confirmation that Phillips would be ready for Sunday’s visit to Fulham on Friday was greeted with a sigh of relief.
His inclusion lightens the significant burden that continues to weigh firmly on Klopp’s defensive ranks.
Despite the January signings of Kabak and Preston’s Ben Davies, it’s Phillips whose unlikely status has increased the most at center-back.
He will never be Messi, as Klopp puts it, but Phillips can derive great satisfaction from his accomplishments in recent months.
If this season will end as a forgettable one for Klopp’s Liverpool, from a domestic perspective, at least Phillips will always remember it.