Nat Phillips is earning a cult following among Liverpool supporters as an old-fashioned, reliable centre-back, and his approach to winning headers will only strengthen that.
In a season of unbelievable setbacks, Phillips has enjoyed one of the most unlikely rises to prominence at Anfield, having been close to the exit in October.
Injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have thrust the 23-year-old into a regular starting role at centre-back, and while he has his limitations, he is growing in stature for the Reds.
His partnership with Ozan Kabak is one Jurgen Klopp hopes to build on for the rest of the campaign, with their aerial ability particularly important within the Liverpool system.
Of the 76 other centre-backs to make five or more appearances in this season’s Premier League, none average more aerial duels won per 90 than Phillips (5.9), who is also in the top 20 in terms of win percentage (70%).
The former Bolton youth was the subject of a number of memes on social media following his towering display against RB Leipzig in his Champions League debut in midweek, and he is well aware of those.
“My mum saw that one and I said, ‘I’m sure you’d understand, a clean sheet’s a clean sheet!’”
Liverpool’s Nat Phillips reacts to the memes about his Champions League debut ? pic.twitter.com/FGLTTKtRj9
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) March 13, 2021
Running through a handful in an interview with SPORTbible this week, Phillips revealed a conversation with his mother about a claim that he “would two-foot his nan in the chest if it meant keeping a clean sheet.”
“My mum had just seen that and sent it to me, and I just replied saying ‘I’m sure you’d understand, a clean sheet’s a clean sheet’,” he joked.
When it came to discussing his commitment to winning headers at all costs, the defender added: “If ever I lose a header, it proper winds me up.”
The development of Phillips and Kabak as a partnership was aided by the return of Fabinho to his natural No. 6 role against Leipzig, and the centre-back reflected on this.
“It made our lives so much easier having him back in front of us just hoovering absolutely everything up,” he explained.
“There were so many occasions where the ball looks like it’s heading towards the striker’s feet, and you’re getting yourself set thinking ‘I’m gonna have to deal with this one here’, and he just flies straight across the front of you, sticks his long leg out and deals with it.”
Phillips, Kabak and Fabinho are set to retain their roles for Monday night’s clash with Wolves, and it could provide the No. 47 with another opportunity to gain more plaudits for his efforts in the air and on the ground.