Liverpool face a dire situation at centre-back as they prepare to face West Ham United today. They will be without both Joel Matip and Fabinho.
Fabinho not playing against Tottenham Hotspur in midweek was bad. Joel Matip going off at half-time was really, really bad.
Their injuries mean Jurgen Klopp is without his first four options at centre-half. That’s a dire situation for any team in the world and, quite frankly, it’s a miracle that Liverpool are doing as well as they are.
They’ll now face West Ham United today and Liverpool do so without a senior centre-back option. We imagine Jordan Henderson will keep his place there from Thursday – but who replaces Matip?
Liverpool certainly haven’t signed anyone but, fortunately, Nat Phillips should be an adequate replacement.
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Phillips actually faced West Ham at Anfield back in late October. He played the full 90 minutes – and played well.
In fact, Phillips has consistently played well in the Premier League. The Tottenham game was his fourth appearance and he did fine.
But that was also his least impressive outing.
That game at Anfield against the Hammers was Phillips Premier League debut – a high pressure game for any player. And he played that way.
The 23-year-old made nine clearances in that game [all stats per Whoscored]. It’s a massive amount for a Liverpool player, with both Fabinho and Matip averaging under 2.5 per game this season.
It suggests Phillips was a little quick to get rid.
But he was decent in that one. He picked up a couple of interceptions and led the game in headers won (5).
Phillips didn’t start another game for 28 days but the encouraging thing is that he improved. He maintained his two interceptions at Brighton, for instance, while cutting his clearances down to four.
In fact, Phillips was outstanding in this game. He won a massive eight headers – no one else on the pitch won more than three. That was at a 73 per cent completion rate, too, which was up there with the best.
Phillips even won four tackles – twice as many as anyone else. Even more impressive is that he only attempted four, winning every single one.
Again, it was a month until Phillips played again. He faced Newcastle United away late in December and, once again, was encouraging.
He trimmed his clearances down to just two this time, completing 89 passes – more in line with a Liverpool defender. But Phillips maintained that incredible aerial dominance, again winning eight.
It’s worth noting that Phillips actually kept that up against Spurs, too. They rarely went high into the box but the Liverpool man won two headers in the second half – more than any other Red over the 90 minutes.
He won two tackles, too, which matched any teammate over the full game. Importantly, he did so without being dribbled past once.
Is Phillips one of the best defenders in the league? No, of course not. But he’s shown an ability to improve and perform despite a complete lack of consistent game time.
The fact he’s performed against today’s opponents only strengthens the argument that Liverpool should start him. Phillips may be a last resort but he’s a pretty good one to replace Matip.