Klopp hails “exceptional” Rhys Williams as Liverpool share Van Dijk’s responsibility

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Jurgen Klopp singled Rhys Williams out for praise as the “exceptional” No. 46 helped keep a clean sheet in his first Champions League start, in the 5-0 thrashing of Atalanta.

After a man-of-the-match display from Nat Phillips against West Ham at the weekend, the onus fell on Williams as the next stand-in centre-back alongside Joe Gomez.

With Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho out, and Joel Matip only fit enough for the bench in Bergamo, the 19-year-old made his full debut in the Champions League, and was excellent marshalling Duvan Zapata.

The youngster has grown swiftly since his move up to the first team, and reflecting on his display, Klopp hailed Williams and explained how it showed the Reds sharing responsibility in Van Dijk’s absence.

“Exceptional. I cannot imagine being 19 years old and playing my second adult professional football game in the Champions League against Muriel and Zapata, or most of the time against Zapata,” he told reporters.

“It’s incredible. I would have been nervous like hell.

“The boys are not, that helps massively. But defending is obviously a common thing and how the team defended tonight was absolutely incredible.

“When you leave the last line alone, which we did from time to time, not on purpose but because of thinking things are always going well, in the end we win the challenges anyway.

“We had to change that obviously because Virg is not there anymore and so that means if you share that responsibility now, if you put it on 10 shoulders instead of on one, then it can work out.

“Tonight it was incredibly good what the last line did, supported by all the others.”

BERGAMO, ITALY - Tuesday, November 3, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (L) fist bumps Andy Robertson during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Atalanta BC and Liverpool FC at the Stadio di Bergamo. (Pic by Simone Arveda/Propaganda)

Before the game, Trent Alexander-Arnold described Van Dijk as the “captain of the back four,” but Klopp now insists he, along with Gomez and Andy Robertson as the consistent members of his first-choice defence, are now his leaders.

Gomez deserves great credit for the way he has adapted without the Dutchman – alongside Fabinho, Phillips and Williams, and slightly out of position as a left-sided centre-back – and the manager hopes this will continue.

It is likely that, as Klopp hinted, Matip would step in for the trip to Man City on Sunday, but the overriding feeling was joy as he savoured Williams’ reaction.

“Everybody has to step up now because Robbo and Trent and Joe, they are now in charge,” he explained.

“Whoever plays with them – if it’s Joel it’s different – but if one of the younger ones plays with them, they are the most experienced and they have to demand and command the things in that line.

“So it was really nice to see and I couldn’t be more happy for Rhys because you should see him in the dressing room – you’d probably need something special to hit the smile out of his face, it’s probably not possible. It’s really great to see.”

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