Nathaniel Phillips: Liverpool defender swims after being thrown in Premier League deep end


Phillips had been expected to go out on loan this season

If everything had gone as originally planned, Nathaniel Phillips wouldn’t even have been at Anfield this season, let alone starting a Premier League game against West Ham.

It was assumed the defender would likely have been plying his trade in the Championship in 2020-21, or back in Germany, where he spent a successful loan spell with Stuttgart last campaign.

But the lack of a willing suitor, coupled with a Reds defensive crisis, means the 23-year-old has instead been thrust straight into the deep end of a top-flight title defence.

On the evidence of his performance in Saturday’s 2-1 win against West Ham, he looks far more likely to swim than sink.

“It has been a bit of a strange one lately because it looked like I was going out of the club in the [transfer] window, there was a lot of interest,” Phillips told Match of the Day.

“It didn’t come through in the end and I am happy it didn’t because I got my opportunity here with the injuries.”

Phillips stepped into the centre of defence and did not look out of place, handling West Ham striker Sebastien Haller well and making more clearances (nine) and more interceptions (two) than any other Liverpool player.

In the final seconds of the game he made a brilliant clearing header from a West Ham delivery to avoid any late drama and help ensure Liverpool took the three points.

Only Diogo Jota and Xherdan Shaqiri were given higher ratings than Phillips (7.14) by BBC Sport readers, while Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher named him man of the match.

“It is a huge compliment, especially coming from him. He is a Liverpool legend,” Phillips added.

“This is something I’ve dreamed of growing up. It was huge for me and my family.”

‘In the air he is a monster’

Nathaniel Phillips
Phillips played the full 90 minutes against West Ham

Phillips’ Premier League debut against the Hammers clearly had an element of fortune about it, with injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho clearing his path to the first team.

But it still marks quite the about-turn for a player who was so out of the picture at Anfield he was not even included in the club’s Champions League squad for this campaign.

A number of Championship and Bundesliga clubs were reportedly interested, including Middlesbrough, Bristol City, Schalke and Werder Bremen, but a move failed to materialise.

Dejan Lovren’s summer departure, the defensive injury crisis and clearly the impression he has made in training has taken care of the rest.

“He is a brilliant guy, smart guy, intelligent – everything,” Klopp said after the game.

“I was not easy on the eye, he is not easy on the eye, both messy, but who cares? In the air he is a monster, loves having challenges on the pitch and today he was incredible.

“Twelve Championship teams wanted him in the summer, I was fine with him to go but it didn’t work out for whatever reason and tonight he was spot on.”

Have talent, will travel

Born in Bolton, Nathaniel is the son of Jimmy Phillips, who had two spells as a player at Bolton Wanderers.

He arrived at Liverpool just before the start of the 2016-17 season following a successful trial with the club’s academy, having previously come through the Bolton academy.

He was also offered a scholarship to play in the United States at the University of North Carolina but turned that down to sign for the Reds instead.

Three seasons of reserve team games followed before the club felt he was ready for first-team football via a loan spell in Germany with Stuttgart, then in the second tier.

However, in something of a precursor to the current situation at Anfield, defensive injuries for the Reds would prompt his brief recall from Germany in January 2020 and an appearance in the 1-0 FA Cup third-round win over Everton, before a return to Stuttgart.

He made 19 league appearances in total for Stuttgart last season, in which they kept six clean sheets.

Having looked at one stage to be heading out of the Anfield door, Phillips is now relishing the chance to develop his career at Liverpool.

“I really enjoyed the game,” he said. “It was a tough battle, a lot of aerial battles, but that’s my strength so I enjoyed that side of it.

“I’ve just been concentrating on this weekend up until now, but if the opportunity does arise again I’ve got to make sure I’m ready for that.”

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