Jurgen Klopp has labelled stop-gap defenders Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams “proper Premier League players” after they stepped into the Liverpool breach this season.
The Reds boss had no choice but to throw the duo into Premier League action this season after long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Liverpool’s season looked like ending in disaster after a dreadful run of form after Christmas. But both Phillips and Williams stepped up to help Liverpool finish in the Champions League places.
Phillips, 24, made 17 Premier League appearances, including nine starts in the last 11 games en-route to a third-placed finish. The lesser experienced Williams, 20, played nine times, but started the last five games, which produced five victories.
Klopp has hailed the Academy graduates and believes they have shown there is a pathway to the first team for all at Kirkby.
“These two boys, playing like that, it is incredible, absolutely incredible,” Klopp said. ‘”That was a proper crash course in a Premier League education, and they have learned so much,” said Klopp
“It’s a sign for all our kids at Liverpool in the academy. It’s possible – it shows it’s possible… just work hard.
“These boys they are obviously not skilled like crazy, they had to work incredibly hard. And now they are proper, proper Premier League players. And that’s exactly how it can work. I am really happy for them.”
Phillips came close to leaving Anfield last summer. Only an injured prevented him from departing.
However, with Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip all expected to be back in contention for the start of the new campaign, Phillips can probably only hope for a bench role at best.
That has led The Sun to claim that Anfield decision-makers will allow Phillips to move on this summer. But that is only if an offer of £10m comes in.
Phillips has no intention of leaving this summer.
‘Incredible’ from Phillips and Williams
“Yes, certainly,” Phillips told LFCTV, when asked if he wants to continue playing in a Liverpool shirt.
“Don’t get me wrong, even though I feel like this season’s been successful for me, I know that I’ve got plenty to work on and plenty to improve on.”
Whether or not Klopp’s comments were engineered to push up the sale price of Phillips, a “proper Premier League player”, remains to be seen.
Speaking after victory on the final day of the season against Crystal Palace, Klopp said: “The steps they made this year, they should be really very proud of because it is absolutely a different level now, that’s really nice to be part of that.
“Playing like that, they just fought through it, didn’t expect an easy situation, just fought through it, and we qualified for the Champions League in the end. So let’s talk about them, how they played is incredible.”