Liverpool owe it to Nat Phillips if they qualify for the Champions League

11 April 2021 02:30

Prior to this season, Nat Phillips had just one Liverpool appearance to his name, and it seemed as if that would be his lot.

There was no real attempt to keep him at Anfield amid interest from Germany. With a year left on his deal and four centre-backs ahead of him in the pecking order, it was hard to imagine any sort of Liverpool future for a player whose chance had come and gone.

He looked dispensable - but now you wonder where they would be without him.

Fast forward six months and while Phillips' long-term future is still up in the air, he's one of the first names on Jurgen Klopp's team-sheet. His cause has been aided by a freakish slate of injuries, but he has earned his spot on merit with a number of dominant performances which seem to improve with every passing week.

He may be the antithesis of the modern day central defender, but he embodies the dogged will to win that Liverpool have rediscovered in their charge towards Champions League football.

The Reds' victory over Aston Villa made it three league wins on the spin for the first time since September, and while Trent Alexander-Arnold grabbed the headlines, Phillips was once again their best performer.

The big defender threw himself at everything and won ten aerial duels - the rest of his team won nine between them. He won the battle with Ollie Watkins and his understanding with Ozan Kabak sat at the core of a first Anfield win in almost four months.

And he was much better at the things he's normally criticised for. He pulled off three key passes, as many as Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, and continues to prove himself as an adaptable footsoldier for Jurgen Klopp.

He's been a huge part of the late season resurgence that has kept Liverpool alive and kicking in the hunt for Champions League football, and for now, he won't be looking any further than the task in front of him.

Yet it's all a little bittersweet, since Phillips' recent emergence isn't likely to save his Liverpool career.

There's going to be a defensive shakeup at Anfield in the summer. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will return to take cornerstone roles. Kabak's arrival is set to be made permanent, while there is talk of a new arrival, with RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate still heavily linked.

All of that spells bad news for Phillips, who doesn't appear to have a long-term role in a replenished defence.

He's been a revelation, but in reality, he's plugging a gap. With his contract due to expire, it may be best for everyone if he moves on and keeps his momentum building elsewhere.

Over the past four months, though, Phillips has gone from a perceived Championship-level defender to one who can mix it with the best in the top flight.

The battling attributes that have helped Liverpool back into top four contention have plenty to offer, and he will walk away from Anfield with a CV that looks immeasurably more impressive than it would have a year ago.

He may not be heading to the top with Liverpool, but Phillips deserves immense credit for how he has defied expectations to help the club through the Klopp era's darkest hour.

Source: 90min