Liverpool’s frankly chaotic 2020 was encapsulated perfectly with another tactical change in the heart of Jurgen Klopp’s defence.
The German manager paired Fabinho with Nathaniel Phillips as a result of the adductor injury sustained to Joel Matip.
In truth, both players performed well throughout during the 0-0 draw with Newcastle to secure Liverpool’s fifth league clean sheet of the season.
Phillips’ performance defensively meant Matip wasn’t missed to dearly, and as a result, has given Klopp a positive selection problem heading into the New Year.
Together, Fabinho and Phillips managed to bust three overused myths surrounding Liverpool’s defence this season.
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‘Liverpool are in a defensive crisis’ – Wrong
It goes without saying, that the absence of Virgil van Dijk would be a cause for concern in any team. Yet, Liverpool have managed incredibly.
Even with the added loss of Joe Gomez, Klopp’s defensive quartet is still alive and kicking.
In the 10 matches without their chief organiser and defensive lynchpin, Liverpool have conceded just nine goals. This is made to look even more incredible when you consider the Reds leaked 11 goals in the four matches Van Dijk was available this season.
In Liverpool’s latest game, another clean sheet on the road showcased a strong understanding between Fabinho and Phillips.
Fabinho has the tactical nous and know-how to cover his defensive counterpart when needed. Phillips, meanwhile, is clearly Liverpool’s most dominant option in the air. He won eight of his aerial duels against Newcastle, as a result – more than any other player.
Only by playing together can they gain an understanding, and with the added option of Rhys Williams, Klopp has two competent defenders he can regularly rotate between.
‘Liverpool don’t have options’ – Wrong
This was the third occasion in Liverpool’s previous four matches that Klopp has mixed up his centre-back pairing. Indeed, his latest alteration was a result of another injury, but it certainly demonstrates Liverpool aren’t lacking in options.
Even with the absence of Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip, Klopp still has three central defenders to rotate between. The likes of Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum have experience in that particular position, also.
According to The Times, Matip will return in three weeks time. With that said, he could hope to feature against either Tottenham or West Ham, effectively missing three to four matches.
A concern for Klopp is Fabinho’s recent sustained brilliance makes him too indispensable to even consider resting.
‘Liverpool have to invest in January’ – Wrong
Yes, it is true Liverpool would potentially benefit from a January addition but this shouldn’t be the club’s primary solution in the coming weeks.
Let’s look at the facts. Liverpool have got three injured first-choice centre-halves, a defensive midfielder leading the back-line, and two unproven players.
On paper, this could warrant reason for concern. However, mass panic to such would be premature when you consider the Reds are top of the league.
The biggest question and potential solution for Klopp is how he utilises the two inexperienced defenders in the coming weeks? From the looks of it, Phillips will be used against more direct teams.
On the other hand, Williams, in-fact, will play against teams more expansive in possession, such as Southampton.
Newcastle had a plan against Liverpool – hit it long for Joelinton and Callum Wilson to chase. Fortunately, Phillips’ selection ahead of Williams a shrewd one.
The 23-year-old won a game-high eight headers. That was more than anyone else, in fact, and even better, he did it while maintaining the highest win-percentage on the pitch (80).
This, then, is surely how Klopp will use Phillips. He’s there to keep aerial threats at bay, stopping teams who think they can expose a vulnerable, inexperienced defensive back-line.
The Reds may not have an abundance of star defenders on their hands at present, but the clever usage of their backups could be the best way forward. Phillips and Williams both have very different contrasting qualities, after all – this could be a major advantage to Klopp.