With Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho sidelined through injury, Liverpool’s options in the centre of defence looked to be extremely limited.
But we were all surprised to see two players who looked to be nowhere near the first team picture step up and put in some impressive performances in the league and in Europe.
When Fabinho pulled up with a thigh issue in the Champions League win over FC Midtjylland, young Rhys Williams – who spent last season on loan in the National League with Kidderminster Harriers – came on and put in an assured performance which belied his inexperience.
Back in the Premier League at the weekend, Nathaniel Phillips was a surprise name on the teamsheet, but put in a man-of-the-match performance in what was only a second Liverpool start for the 23-year-old.
After the respective promising showings from these two academy graduates, and with the imminent return of Joël Matip after his own injury issues, Jürgen Klopp will feel better about his options in the middle of defence than he would have a week ago.
Liverpool are back on the continent in midweek as they visit Atalanta for the first ever time in what is sure to be a tough Tuesday night test, before a huge trip to Manchester City on Sunday.
Who will partner Joe Gomez in these two vital games?
Atalanta – Champions League
Despite his really impressive showing against West Ham, Nat Phillips will not be able to make it two first team starts in a row – he wasn’t named in Liverpool’s Champions League squad as the manager expected him to leave during the last transfer window.
Matip returned to full training on Sunday but, with one eye on that huge game at the Etihad at the weekend, it’s highly unlikely that he will be risked when just coming back from his latest injury layoff.Embed from Getty Images
All that means Rhys Williams is likely to start a Champions League game for the first time after coming off the bench in each of the first two European games of this campaign.
The 19-year-old only got a few minutes at Ajax, but spent more than an hour on the pitch against Midtjylland after Fabinho hobbled off. He managed a 100pc success rate in terms of tackles and aerial duels, while an 86pc passing success rate showed he was pretty handy with the ball at his feet too.
Free-scoring Atalanta will no doubt be a much sterner test for Williams and the rest of the Liverpool defence, but Klopp will be glad that the teenager has been able to get a little bit of continental experience this season, heading into what will no doubt be a difficult game.
Manchester City – Premier League
All three are technically in contention to start at the Etihad, but it is unlikely that Williams will keep his place after what is likely to be a 90-minute shift in midweek – unless he produces a stunning performance in Italy.
If he can prove his fitness in time, then Matip has to be the one to take to the pitch for Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. His experience will be very important in keeping City at bay, even if the Sky Blues have had a slightly laboured start to the season.
Matip won more aerial duels than any other defender in Europe’s top five leagues last season, proving how important his heading ability is to this Liverpool side – especially with Gomez struggling in the air in recent outings.
If the Cameroonian is deemed not ready to start in Manchester, then the responsibility will almost certainly fall to Phillips to repeat his strong defensive showing from the West Ham win.
Sergio Agüero is definitely our with injury while Gabriel Jesus is battling to prove hit fitness in time for this one, so chances are Ferran Torres could start in the central attacking role. This would provide a different test entirely from Sébastien Haller, as the Spaniard is less of an aerial threat and will ask more of Phillips’ footwork and tackling ability.
But after impressing at Anfield, Liverpool fans will no doubt be a lot more at ease with Phillips starting if Matip hasn’t recovered in time for the trip to City.
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