Liverpool correspondent James Pearce was very impressed by defender Nathaniel Phillips’ performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday night, despite the Reds exiting the competition at the last eight stage.
What did Pearce say?
Having lost the first leg 3-1, Liverpool needed to be resolute at the back at Anfield to have any chance of progressing to the next round.
They managed to keep a clean sheet, with Phillips putting in a particularly commanding display. Pearce was full of praise for the 24-year-old, and claimed that Jurgen Klopp deciding to keep him on even when the side were pushing for late goals showed how well Phillips played.
Writing in The Athletic’s discussion thread after the match, Pearce said: “How good was Nat tonight? Brilliant to see him shining against that calibre of opponent. Telling that when Klopp took off a CB, he took off Kabak instead.”
What were Phillips’ stats against Real?
Speaking on Sky Sports last month, as quoted by The Mirror, Jamie Carragher labelled Phillips “a monster in the air.” The young defender demonstrated his aerial ability again in his latest outing.
As per WhoScored, he won seven aerial duels against the Spanish champions – no other player on the pitch won more than three.
He was also convincing when the ball was on the floor. Phillips topped Liverpool’s rankings for the match in terms of interceptions (4) and clearances (2).
All this meant that he received a match rating of 7.43 – Trent Alexander-Arnold (7.47) was his only teammate to earn a higher mark.
How has Phillips performed overall since coming into the first-team?
Phillips’ introduction to the first-team has been a major positive for Liverpool this term. In his 12 league appearances, he has been given an average match rating of 7.09 (via WhoScored). This puts him second in the Liverpool rankings behind only Sadio Mane (7.3).
Once again, it is his aerial prowess which stands out, as he has won 5.5 aerial duels per game – the next highest in this category for Liverpool is Rhys Williams (3.5). He is head and shoulders above his teammates when it comes to clearances as well, having averaged 4.3 per match.
Phillips is also tidy in possession, completing 84.3% of his passes in the top-flight to highlight that he is comfortable with playing the ball out from the back.
Will Phillips get more opportunities next season?
Liverpool are expected to welcome back a number of defenders next year, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all set to recover from their respective injuries.
The club have also been linked with bringing Ibrahima Konate to Merseyside, indicating that they want to bolster their backline in the next transfer window.
However, all four players have had significant fitness issues this season, suggesting that they may need some time to settle into first-team action.
This could give Phillips more chances to impress next year. With Klopp opting to take off Kabak against Real and keeping Phillips on, it appeared to send a message that the Bolton-born defender is now being noticed, and is currently the team’s first-choice available centre-back.
If he keeps performing like he did on Wednesday, it could make it difficult for Klopp to take Phillips out of the starting line-up heading into next season.