Nathaniel Phillips became Liverpool’s latest unlikely hero amid the club’s defensive crisis, turning in a man of the match-winning display in the win over West Ham.
Seemingly having missed the boat to ever make an impact on the first team, 23-year-old Phillips – an unknown name to many fans before the weekend – only got handed his Premier League debut after a much-publicised injury crisis ruled out Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho.
While 19-year-old Rhys Williams had been used in the Champions League and League Cup, Jurgen Klopp turned to Phillips for the clash with West Ham and was justified in his selection.
The Bolton-born centre back’s display was simply described as ‘wow’ by his manager in the aftermath of the win.
Klopp told Sky Sports: “The way we defend – Nat Phillips, wow! I couldn’t be more happy. Before the game I asked him if he’s nervous, he said no, I said: ‘I would be!’ Because it keeps you awake from the first second.
“He was confident, did his stuff, and played a really good game.”
On Sky Sports’ awarding of man of the match to Phillips, Klopp agreed: “100 per cent. Jamie [Carragher] was a defender, maybe he can remember his first game for Liverpool, it’s a big thing, and for a guy like Nat who is exceptionally intelligent, and was already on his way to America three years ago to study at college, now he plays tonight for Liverpool, it’s a really nice story.”
Phillips, who joined Liverpool in 2016 after leaving Bolton’s academy, might’ve had a completely different career path, having turned down a scholarship to the University of North Carolina at the last minute to join the Reds.
Klopp also revealed in his post-match comments that as many as 12 Championship clubs had shown an interest in Philips, who spent much of last season on loan at Stuttgart in Germany’s second tier.
It seemed that Klopp and Liverpool were expecting Phillips to move on this summer and did not even register him as part of the club’s Champions League squad.
In addition, The Athletic reports that Swansea were on the verge of transfer with Phillips set to replace Tottenham-bound Joe Rodon on deadline day, only for the Welsh club to change targets at the last minute.
It is also said that moves for Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City, Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers failed because Liverpool wanted a permanent deal rather than a loan, further highlighting the remarkable turnaround in circumstances that led to the player’s impressive debut on Saturday.