Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders has hailed the recent performances of defensive duo Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips.
Against arguably all the odds, the duo have become Liverpool‘s first-choice centre-back pairing this season. All three senior centre-halves have long-term injuries, leading the Reds into the January transfer market for Kabak. Phillips, meanwhile, started the campaign way down the pecking order but has become crucial.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has therefore insisted that he wants the pair to continue until the end of the season.
But while uncertainty over their futures will arrive once Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip return to fitness, Reds assistant boss Lijnders is happy to see Kabak and Phillips progressing for now.
Indeed, he told liverpoolfc.com that he feels excited about the potential of loan signing Kabak.
“Nathaniel is an example where determination and respect can bring you, and an example how collectively this team and staff is working,” Lijnders said.
“He puts his head where other players don’t put their feet. He has a heart like a lion.
“Probably if I need to survive in a jungle, the first two people I’d choose are Nathaniel and Millie [James Milner]!
'I was meant to be on loan in the Championship'
Liverpool defender Nat Phillips admits he was disappointed at the start of the season when a loan move to the Championship failed to materialise - before becoming an integral member of the squad following a defensive injury crisis.
“Ozan is a big talent, so much progression is still possible. He adapted fantastically inside our club from a context like Schalke and had an immediate impact with Liverpool FC.”
Phillips’ rise has proved one of the feel-good stories of Liverpool’s otherwise dismal downturn in form.
The 24-year-old was told he was free to leave on loan last summer. However, he ended up making his Premier League debut in October.
Since then, his old-school style of defending has won praise from fans, with Lijnders also a fan.
Lijnders lauds Phillips’ Liverpool story
Asked if people should take inspiration from Phillips, Lijnders said: That’s absolutely true.
“It’s not the first time this will happen in our club and not the last, for sure. The passion, the ambition, the love for the game will always make or break you.
“Luckily, we have many stories like that already. The willpower and character was the base of many of our boys to win with us.
“That gives me confidence that we will be back.”
Liverpool are reportedly certain to make one centre-back signing this summer.
For now, Kabak is being treated as just as much of a target as RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate. However, Liverpool are reportedly planning to get a cut-price deal for their on-loan defender.