Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips look promising for Liverpool


Mathematically, chess seems impossible, doesn’t it?

You may only have 32 pieces on the board, but after just three turns each, the board can be set up in nine million different ways.

Liverpool’s system only uses two centre-backs, yet this season, they have used more different combinations in there than any of us can reasonably be expected to count at this stage.

It was fairly settled to start with, as Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez resumed the partnership that led the Reds to last season’s Premier League title. But then injuries began to happen.

Van Dijk and Gomez became Gomez and Matip, Gomez and Matip became Matip and Phillips, Matip and Phillips became Phillips and Fabinho, Phillips and Fabinho became…f**k it, play Jordan Henderson at centre-back and hope for the best.

January arrival Ozan Kabak is the eighth different player to be used in central defence under Jurgen Klopp this term, and after months of turmoil and uncertainty at the back, Liverpool are in desperate need of a settled defensive line.

Thankfully, Wednesday’s win over RB Leipzig hinted that they might have finally found it.

While Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have been dropped into the back line this season, here, Klopp did away with his efforts to replace Van Dijk’s playmaking presence. Instead, he picked two centre-backs instructed to just defend.

And it was no coincidence that in just their second start alongside one another, Kabak and Nat Phillips earned their second clean sheet as a duo.

The back-to-basics approach freed up Fabinho to move back into midfield, and all of a sudden, Liverpool clicked right back into gear.

The Brazilian’s composed presence in midfield can’t be overstated (we’ve covered that in depth already). It lifted the burden from the two inexperienced defenders, allowing them to focus simply on repelling the ball.

It also freed up Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago to play their natural games. The latter in particular delivered one of his best performances since arriving at Anfield; only his passing masterclass in the 3-1 win over West Ham in January really came close.

Kabak and Phillips aren’t the perfect combination. They’re perilously limited compared to what has come before them, but provided they are allowed to stick to their strengths, they at least look defensively capable, and that’s something we haven’t been able to say about Liverpool’s back line for a while now.

They will improve if given time for their partnership to develop naturally, and if they can do so with the shield of Fabinho in front of them in the weeks ahead, Klopp may finally have stumbled upon a steady base on which to build the rest of the season.

A season that looks more promising now there is a Champions League quarter-final on the agenda.



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