Rhys Williams could not have asked for a tougher assignment on his first Champions League start for Liverpool.
His last two starts were against Lincoln City in September and against a second-string Arsenal side in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup that same month.
This one was a little different, away at Atalanta – against a free-flowing attacking enterprise that had scored 98 goals in 38 Serie A matches last season.
Fortunately, manager Jurgen Klopp has huge faith in him. He had no worries putting the 19-year-old centre-back straight into the deep end.
Williams was partnered once again by Joe Gomez, who has become Liverpool’s most experienced central defensive option in recent weeks following the recent injury setbacks to Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho.
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On a couple of separate occasions he was left one-on-one with Duván Zapata, and he stood up to the test emphatically, dispossessing him off the ball without going to ground.
Williams has the top attributes to be a top defender. He is quick, strong and reads the game incredibly well for a player of his age. It is striking to see how many physical similarities he has to Van Dijk which is quite ironic given he is the Dutchman’s current replacement.
This game can hopefully be a significant turning point in the early career of a teenager, who only last season was playing his football in National League North. Williams’ performance against such a formidable opposition was certainly a statement of intent from the former Kidderminster Harrier’s defender.
In total, he made three interceptions and two tackles – as many as any other Liverpool player on the pitch.
His performance helped ensure Liverpool maintained their 100 per cent start in Europe this season while it also saw the Reds clock up their third successive Champions League clean sheet.
Williams’ manager Klopp was more than pleased with his performance and the boss drew out special praise for the player he lauded as ‘exceptional’.
He said: “Starting with Rhys – exceptional.
“I cannot imagine being 19 years old and playing my second adult professional football game in the Champions League against Muriel and Zapata, or most of the time against Zapata.
“It’s incredible. I would have been nervous like hell.
“So it was really nice to see and I couldn’t be happier for Rhys because you should see him in the dressing room – you’d probably need something special to hit the smile out of his face, it’s probably not possible. It’s really great to see.”
Defence has been a real problem for Liverpool this season amid an injury list greater than Diogo Jota’s current goalscoring exploits, and Williams has shown to his manager that he can be a real solution in the long-term.
He was only in the team due to previous muscle injury to Matip, who has missed the previous six matches. More games like this and he will be putting the 29-year-old’s place under pressure.
There certainly will be more challenges to come, but Liverpool could not have asked anymore from Williams given the circumstances.
Liverpool fans were left raving about his performance. Here is a look at some of the reaction on Twitter…
Rhys van Williams well played lad… https://t.co/V0G6RWu4gr
— Shaun (@LfcShaunjudge) November 3, 2020
Virgil van Dijk’s absence has made Trent, Rhys Williams, Joe Gomez and Nat Phillips all step up massively defensively. The greatest influence in football.
— Tommy (@TLister77) November 3, 2020
I’m beginning to think Van Dijk jumped in a time machine and wears a random Liverpool top with Williams on the back 😂
— 𝗞𝗘𝗡𝗡𝗬 𝗖𝗔𝗗𝗘𝗡𝗖𝗘 (@KennyCadence) November 3, 2020
Ryhs Williams a colossus beast at the back. Who's Virgil Van Dijk? pic.twitter.com/61rhawZMNV
— DegZ 🥶 (@Degzzzzzz) November 3, 2020
If football were Hollywood, Rhys Williams would be Virgil van Dijk's stunt double.
— Abimbola Alaba (@MisterAlaba) November 3, 2020
NO VAN DIJK NO PROBLEM WE GOT RHYS WILLIAMS
— – (@1121LFC1121) November 3, 2020
@rhyswilliams01 to start over Nat Phillips against Man City, in my opinion!
Philips was superb on the weekend and brilliant in the air!
— LFCfRED (@FredTheLFCRed) November 3, 2020
Another belter performance lad. Get in there. Your a beast
— Ian Lewis (@buzz7586) November 3, 2020
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