Liverpool’s defensive issues have been well documented over the past few months. Shortly after Virgil van Dijk suffered a season-ending injury against Everton in October 2020, Jurgen Klopp also lost Joe Gomez and Joel Matip for the rest of the 2020-21 campaign. The German manager experimented with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at the back, before the latter tore his groin.
With a lack of options, the Reds sealed a loan-to-buy deal for Ozan Kabak in January. His recent partnership with Nat Phillips has given Liverpool supporters optimism for the business end of the season. Few can argue that the pair aren’t doing a respectable job in the short term, but their long-term futures are up in the air. So, what will Klopp do with Phillips and Kabak?
The Most Unlikeliest of Partnerships
At the start of the campaign, Liverpool supporters would never have believed that a fringe squad player and a loan purchase from bottom-of-the-league Schalke would be keeping their season on track. Although the Reds have fallen well short in defending their title, a top-four finish isn’t out of the question. As of April 6th, Liverpool are 10/11 in football betting to finish in the top four this season. If the Reds hope to qualify for the 2021-22 Champions League through the Premier League, Kabak and Phillips may hold the key.
Prior to Kabak’s substitution against Arsenal in the Reds’ three-goal victory at the Emirates, he and Phillips had played together for 263 minutes. As a result, this made them the club’s longest-serving partnership this season. Liverpool’s unexpected central defensive pairing kept clean sheets in their first four games together against Sheffield United, RasenBallsport Leipzig, Wolves, and Arsenal.
The Reds Have Decisions to Make
There can be no doubts that Kabak and Phillips have brought some much-needed solidity to Liverpool’s season. However, things could have been very different for the Bolton-born defender. In the 2020 summer window, the Reds allowed Phillips to talk to Swansea ahead of a loan move, but the Swans instead opted to pursue other targets. The 24-year-old’s contract at Anfield doesn’t expire in 2021, and with Gomez, Matip, and Van Dijk set to return next season, Phillips may once again find his opportunities limited.
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Kabak, on the other hand, is playing for his Liverpool career. The Reds aren’t obliged to pay the £18 million fee to make the Turkish international’s loan move permanent. Despite impressing after quickly adapting to a new club, country, and league, Klopp’s team are in talks to sign Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig. Although the deal isn’t near completion, it raises question marks over Kabak’s future. Along with Gomez, Matip, and Van Dijk, do the Reds need both Kabak and Konate? That said, one thing is for sure; if the six-time Champions of Europe go for both, a repeat of this season’s crisis is avoidable.
Football is a Game of Opportunities
Few would have expected Liverpool to end the 2020-21 season with Kabak and Phillips in defence. While that’s not a reflection of their talents, it instead speaks volumes of the standards that supporters expect at Anfield. As a partnership, they may not take Liverpool to the title or a seventh Champions League triumph, but they have given hope to the Anfield faithful.