Liverpool didn’t have Nat Phillips in their 1-1 draw with Newcastle United. As it turned out, they missed the 24-year-old.
Nat Phillips started the season round sixth-choice at centre-back. There was Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as a clear first, second and third.
Then Fabinho was in place as fourth-choice, vacating a spot in midfield to cover injury problems. Should the worst come about, Rhys Williams could fill in as fifth-choice.
As it turned out, the first three would all get injured long-term. Fabinho would be missed desperately in midfield. Williams, unfortunately, just wasn’t quite ready for a consistent first-team spot.
Thus Phillips found himself with regular games – he’s up to 12 now. It’s even reached the point where Liverpool miss him when he’s not around.
That was certainly the case on Saturday.
Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle
Liverpool should have won the game regardless, of course. They had plenty of chances – good chances – but couldn’t finish.
Mohamed Salah’s early strike was wonderful and actually far more difficult than many subsequent opportunities. Liverpool paid a price for their profligacy, though, as Newcastle found a late equaliser.
It wasn’t a shock, though. The Magpies actually created a few decent chances throughout. While they only had seven shots, over half were on target.
They found a weakness to exploit for a good few of those chances – headers. Liverpool couldn’t quite handle Joelinton, who won five out of seven headers in the game.
He targeted Fabinho, in particular, who ended up winning just two of six.
Newcastle ended up getting their equaliser after a header, too – it was a strategy that ended up working.
Usually, Liverpool handle threats in the air with Van Dijk, of course. Without him, Phillips takes over the role.
He averages 5.5 headers per game in the Premier League this season, which is the fourth-best in the entire league. Phillips wins headers at a better ratio than any of those above him, too.
In fact, the last time Liverpool played Newcastle, Phillips was dominant. He won eight headers that day, limiting Joelinton to winning just 40 per cent.
As we said at the time, Phillips essentially secured himself a specialist role that day. It was one Liverpool could have used on Saturday.
We never thought we’d actually get to the point where we notice Phillips being out of the side but here we are. The defender certainly has a place at Liverpool right now.