Liverpool: Wijnaldum leaving 'will be a blow'
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Ibrahima Konate’s impending arrival at Liverpool has left Nat Phillips facing a new role next season. The Reds were hit by a succession of injuries to their first-choice centre-backs, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all sidelined for long periods of time over the course of the campaign.
That meant Phillips, who had played just one senior game for the Reds before this season, was forced to step up.
He became a regular in Jurgen Klopp’s side, making 17 appearances in the Premier League, the vast majority of them starts.
Liverpool kept nine clean sheets in the 20 outings that Phillips made in all competitions, with the 24-year-old also getting on the scoresheet in a win over Burnley.
Phillips started all but three of Liverpool’s final 17 games in all competitions, forming a partnership with Rhys Williams that played a key role in reaching the top four.
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With Ozan Kabak failing to impress, Klopp deployed the Phillips-Williams partnership against Southampton, with the Reds going onto win their next five games.
But with defence having been identified as an area of weakness by Klopp, Phillips’ time as a regular starter appears to be under threat.
Van Dijk and Gomez should be fit for the start of the next season, while the Reds have also stepped up their efforts to sign Konate.
On Friday, they triggered the £36million release clause that the Frenchman has in his contract at RB Leipzig.
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Liverpool’s pursuit of the Frenchman suggests that he will overtake Phillips in the pecking order if he is brought to Anfield.
That is expected to see Phillips’ role reduced to that of a squad player, barring yet more injuries to the Reds’ backline.
But though 22-year-old Konate is rated as one of the best young defenders in the game, Phillips does have qualities that could suit him to certain games better than the Frenchman.
His aerial dominance was important against Burnley, when the Clarets’ direct approach threatened to cause Klopp’s men a number of problems.
Ahead of Liverpool’s final match of the season, Klopp hinted that the defender’s future will be assessed this summer.
“I am very pleased for Nat, very pleased, I love the boy. If he really makes it or not, let’s sort it out after the Crystal Palace game,” Klopp said after the win at Burnley.
“So just let’s just finish the season and if you want I can write a book about both boys. About Nat and about Rhys, no problem.
“Let’s at least play this game, let the boys stay focused, let them recover, all these kinds of things and we can talk about all these kinds of things after it.”
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