This article is part of Football FanCast’s In The Pipeline series, which takes a look at some of the most promising young talent either linked with clubs or emerging from their academies…
After a period of stagnation for the Liverpool academy, in which the best assets to be churned out were players such as Jay Spearing (no disrespect to the current Blackpool man), the Reds’ youth ranks which produced players like Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen are starting to pick up again.
The Merseysiders have developed 20-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold from an academy prospect into one of Europe’s best right-backs, and are placing their trust in the impressive 19-year-old striker Rhian Brewster for the upcoming campaign.
Another man slightly older than these two, but just as promising nonetheless, is 22-year-old Nathaniel Phillips.
The man who was let go by Bolton amidst their financial woes has already impressed Jurgen Klopp, who was particularly dazzled by Phillips’ performances in pre-season last summer – the Liverpool Echo described him as the ‘hidden star’ of the friendly warm-up fixtures.
He was merely making up the numbers, but injury to Joel Matip allowed Phillips to catch Klopp’s eye – Ragnar Klavan was even allowed to leave for Cagliari when the Reds returned, with the German boss happily sanctioning the move after watching Phillips according to the Echo.
Standing at a towering 6 foot 2, the dominant centre-back now trains regularly at Melwood with the first-team instead of the Kirkby Academy where young players usually go, and he could easily slot in for Dejan Lovren as Liverpool’s fourth-choice centre-back in the near future.
There were already whispers about him playing the first game of last season amid an injury crisis, and some Liverpool fans were calling for him to get his chance against West Ham on the opening day.
Lovren has been of interest to AC Milan this summer, and with Joe Gomez, Matip and Virgil van Dijk ahead of the Croatian, you would presume that he would be allowed to go if he pushed for a move himself – at 30 years of age, Liverpool won’t really have much longer to get a good amount of money for the centre-back.
If he does eventually depart, the Champions League winners have Phillips ready to step in and play back-up to Gomez, Matip and van Dijk, and judging by his performances last summer as well as this summer, he is more than capable of slotting in.
He could easily have got that chance back in January amid an injury crisis in defence, which saw Fabinho drop into centre-back after Gomez, Matip and Lovren were all struggling with fitness issues – unfortunately for Phillips, he had to go under the knife to amend an ankle problem.
All the noise coming from Klopp, coupled with Phillips’ performances, suggest that the Englishman has more than enough in his locker to competently replace Lovren as Liverpool’s fourth-choice centre-back.