Klopp hails “proper” defensive pair amid changes to Liverpool transfer plans

Jurgen Klopp says his two unlikely defensive heroes have passed a “crash course” in life at the top of the Premier League with flying colours.

And the Liverpool manager believes both Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams have now not only proved they are “proper, proper players”, but also lit a beacon for all the club’s academy youngsters, showing the way into the first team.

Only injury prevented Phillips from leaving on loan last summer. Yet he eventually played more games at centre half for Liverpool during the campaign than everyone bar Fabinho.

Williams, at just 20, was the third most used centre half during the season, and yet the pair were Klopp’s SEVENTH and EIGHTH choice central defenders.

Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams stood up for Liverpool during their defensive crisis

Incredibly, Liverpool used 20 different centre half partnerships during an injury blighted season, but the two rookies came together at the end, to offer stability with a pairing which was the second most used by Klopp.

And he insisted the two England qualified defenders have lit up a perfect pathway into the first team for all the academy graduates to follow.

“These two boys, playing like that, it is incredible, absolutely incredible. That was a proper crash course in a Premier League education, and they have learned so much,” he said,

“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.”

Klopp used nine different players at centre half during the campaign, with Williams and Phllips between them playing in more than two thirds of all the games.

Phillips was due to go out on loan at the start of the season, and was even left out of the Champions League squad, while Williams was regarded as a kid who would get the odd league cup game.

Phillips was due to leave on loan last summer

And yet together, they were third most successful centre half partnership of the season in terms of minutes per goal conceded, even eclipsing the stats Virgil van Dijk posted before his injury in October.

Phillips in fact, also formed the second most successful partnership with Ozan Kabak, and Klopp believes the two have now earned the right to a Liverpool future.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The form of both home grown defenders could well persuade Klopp to keep them as back up to van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, who are all expected to be back for the start of next season.

The Reds are still pursuing Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate, and if a deal is secured as expected in the next few days for the France U21 international, Klopp is likely to turn down the chance of making Ozan Kabak’s loan deal a permanent move, with Phillips and Williams now established in the first team squad.

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