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Opinion: Nat Phillips could be a first-team player - but not next season

Nat Phillips is good enough to play for Liverpool’s first-team but that may not be enough next season. The 24-year-old is a victim of timing.

We don’t yet know where Nat Phillips will be next season. He very well could be at Liverpool but in truth, it doesn’t feel likely. There’s just too much competition.

Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip will all return from injury. It appears the Reds will sign Ibrahima Konate, too, and that puts four players in front of Phillips. We shouldn’t rule out Ozan Kabak staying, either.

We imagine that’s too many. It’s difficult to see where Phillips would get games behind all of them, save for another injury crisis. That is possible, of course, but Liverpool can’t possibly plan for it.

We’re not sure Phillips would want to sit around waiting for several injuries just to get a game, either. He’s far too good for that as, quite honestly, the 24-year-old should be playing week-in, week-out in the Premier League. He’s proven to have that quality over the last few months.

But Liverpool appear to be heading in another direction. That may well mean Phillips moves on, both for the financial benefit and to give him a good move while his stock is high.

And that would be a great shame. The only thing wrong here is the timing – Phillips would be first-team quality in virtually any other season.

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Next season for Nat Phillips

The big problem for Phillips is that he’s doing all of this at 24. As good as he is, no one could claim he’s got the potential to be Van Dijk, Gomez or Matip quality.

He’s certainly good enough to be a Liverpool centre-back who can play in big games. But Phillips isn’t quite at the level where he could be your go-to.

But Liverpool need to start investing in a player like that. Van Dijk and Matip both turn 30 before the summer is over and both, of course, have just had serious injuries.

There are going to be doubts about their long-term ability. We don’t know what shape they’ll be in, how their injuries will turn out, and how it affects them in two, three or four years.

Maybe they’ll be fine. But maybe they won’t be. The fact is, Liverpool need to think about their replacements.

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Players like Konate and Kabak can be just that. Konate turned 22 just yesterday and Kabak just turned 21 – they’re very young players but still have more experience than Phillips.

Now, that’s not to criticise Phillips, it’s just to point out that Konate and Kabak have incredible potential. Konate, in particular, seems destined to become a truly elite centre-back.

Liverpool are trying to sign him at a time when they need long-term players. Players who they can develop over the next few years to become the next Van Dijk and Matip.

This wasn’t the case in any other year. Last year, the year before, the years before that – Liverpool were more interested in their present. Someone like Phillips, at 24, would have been a fine third or fourth-choice centre-back.

Right now, however, the Reds need youth with great potential. It’s a massive shame for Phillips but the timing just doesn’t seem right.

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