Nathaniel Phillips: Who is the young centre-back in Liverpool’s pre-season squad?

Jurgen Klopp has included defender Nathaniel Phillips in his Liverpool squad this pre-season, but what can supporters expect from the youngster?


Nathaniel Phillips

Age: 21
Position: Centre-back
Signed From: Bolton Wanderers (free)


The Reds returned to Melwood at the beginning of July with Klopp short two centre-backs, as Dejan Lovren remained at the World Cup and Virgil van Dijk was given an extended break.

Fitness issues for Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan over the summer hammered home the need for short-term reinforcements, and Phillips was among those to report for training on the first day.

Running laps of the pitch alongside the likes of Gomez, Alberto Moreno, Nathaniel Clyne and Divock Origi, he slotted in comfortably within the first-team squad.

Making his first appearance with an outing at the back against Chester, Phillips helped keep a clean sheet in a comfortable 7-0 victory, and can hope for more minutes as the summer progresses.

NUNEATON, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 29, 2017: Liverpool's Nathaniel Phillips during a pre-season friendly between Liverpool and Coventry City at the Liberty Way Stadium. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Phillips joined the Reds from Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer in 2016, and expected to flesh out the U23s’ ranks he was initially forced to serve as backup to the likes of Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori.

With the senior duo departing midway through the campaign, however, he soon settled into a regular role for the academy side.

This vindicated Phillips’ decision to turn down the offer of a scholarship at the University of North Carolina, where he would have studied economics—albeit with a view to being drafted into MLS.

“Literally out of the blue, a couple of weeks before my flight, Liverpool contacted me and asked would I come and train with them,” he told LiverpoolFC.com at the beginning of 2017.

“I just gave it my best and ended up signing a contract with Liverpool on the day I was meant to be flying out to America!

“It was a crazy few weeks and I had to pinch myself quite a few times just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, but I’m here now and I’m really happy with the way things turned out.”

The defender insisted “I’ve got to make the most of this opportunity because so many lads would give their right arm for this,” and this is no doubt a mindset that has endeared him to Klopp.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, April 3, 2018: Liverpool's Conor Masterson during a training session at Melwood Training Ground ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

This summer is not the first time Phillips has trained under Klopp, having been called up from the U23s as the manager navigated an injury crisis towards the end of last season.

He was a regular fixture alongside Conor Masterson, Rafa Camacho and Curtis Jones as the Reds secured a top-four finish in the Premier League and a place in the Champions League final.

Though he failed to make it onto a pitch this would have been an invaluable experience for Phillips, particularly after a back injury kept him sidelined for the majority of the campaign.

His inclusion came as something of a surprise due to the excellent performances of academy team-mate George Johnston, but Phillips’ qualities as a physical centre-back are clear.

A towering presence at 6′ 4″, the 21-year-old does the basics well and his earnest approach ensures he slots in well in training, while at Chester he proved his fitness before being replaced by Pedro Chirivella.

Phillips signed a new contract with the Reds back in October, and he can now set his sights on making a lasting impression on Klopp.

CHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 7, 2018: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during a preseason friendly match between Chester FC and Liverpool FC at the Deva Stadium. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Liverpool seemingly have no plans to add another centre-back to their ranks this summer, with Klopp building around Van Dijk, Lovren, Matip, Gomez and Klavan.

Lovren is expected to begin the campaign as first choice alongside Van Dijk, with Matip providing established competition, Gomez setting his sights on a regular berth and Klavan available as experienced backup.

Despite the lack of further signings, this highlights the challenge Phillips faces in breaking into the senior setup on a regular basis.

His place in Klopp’s pre-season plans could simply be as a placeholder, but the manager is certainly receptive to the idea of youth talent filling the void whenever possible.

Crucially, the Reds may require Phillips to fill a homegrown slot in their squad this season, and if that is the case he can hope to take his opportunity and cement his stay on Merseyside.

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