Split Opinion: Liverpool has a decision to make at the heart of Jürgen Klopp’s defense ahead of Everton. Two of our writers have their say on what he should do.
Liverpool is facing Everton at a time when neither side is in the position in the Premier League table that they would like to be, and neither manager has a full squad to choose from.
Virgil van Dijk, Jürgen Klopp confirmed in his press conference, is partially back in Reds training but is unlikely to be ready to play on Monday, while Diogo Jota is back but Thiago Alcântara is a doubt. For Liverpool, it seems that for one player to return, another has to miss out, as its misfortune with injuries continues.
That leaves Klopp will a couple of dilemmas to solve. In midfield, there are questions, but so too at the back, where Joël Matip and Joe Gomez had something of a horror show against Wolves last weekend.
Should Klopp stick with the pair, though, with Van Dijk likely to miss out, or twist, and bring in Nat Phillips? Such is the desperation for the team and for Fabinho to improve, the Brazilian has even been put forward as an option to move backwards as a makeshift fix, in a possible bid to get him back to something like his old self again.
What should Liverpool do? Two of our Liverpool.com writers have had their say, and you can add yours in the comments section below the article.
Stick with underperforming duo” – Matt Addison
If Nat Phillips starts on Monday, that would not be a huge shock. That is the situation that Liverpool finds itself in.
I can see the argument: he is strong in the air and Everton will target set pieces. But his lack of pace is an easy target and someone like Demarai Gray could take advantage.
Additionally, Liverpool has some big games coming up. If Phillips was playing against Newcastle United or even Real Madrid, that would be a concern.
By then, Virgil van Dijk is likely to be back, but Ibrahima Konaté may need longer before he returns. That means that Matip or Gomez will be alongside the Dutchman, so getting one of them back to form — and getting last weekend out of their system ASAP — is absolutely vital.
It’s now or never” – James Martin
There is no point in Liverpool still having Nat Phillips at the club if he is not going to be considered a realistic option. If it were as simple as needing numbers at center-back, Rhys Williams would have done just as well, and Klopp could have sanctioned a departure in January.
But a move for Phillips has been repeatedly blocked, spurning the best part of $12m (£10m/€11m) in the process, presumably because Klopp knows he has a defender on his hands who is far better than a typical fourth choice. That being the case, there must be circumstances beyond mere emergencies where he comes into contention.
If we have not reached those circumstances, it is difficult to know when they will ever arise. Van Dijk and Konaté are both out, while their understudies are underperforming. Meanwhile, Phillips is one of the few to have hardly put a foot wrong when called upon this season, with a strong performance against Erling Haaland the highlight of an admittedly small sample size.
Add into that the fact that Phillips’ more old-school skill set seems well-suited to a derby that is likely to be an ugly, scrappy affair, and the case looks very strong indeed. His height and aerial strength, particularly with Van Dijk absent, could be massively important.
That’s not to say that Phillips is a pure throwback either. Klopp has likened him to Robert Lewandowski in terms of the sheer levels of improvement in his all-round game: pace is still a problem, but the 25-year-old is more than competent on the technical side of things.
Frankly, his lack of opportunities has been unfair. Liverpool must either let him leave or let him play, and this looks like an apt time to do the latter. If he plays his way into contention for other big upcoming games, so be it.