(Reuters) - Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp described central defender Nathaniel Phillips as a “monster” in the air after the 23-year-old’s dominating performance on his Premier League debut in Saturday’s 2-1 win over West Ham United.
Thrust into the starting side in the absence through injury of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho, Phillips kept West Ham’s attackers at bay with his no-nonsense defending to earn praise from his manager.
“He’s a brilliant guy, a smart guy, intelligent, everything. He knows... we both laugh about it... I was not really easy on the eye and he’s not easy on the eye, we’re both not (Lionel) Messi but who cares,” Klopp told the BBC on Saturday.
“In the air he’s a monster and he loves having challenges on the pitch. He was incredible for his first game. I’m pretty sure everybody can imagine how nervy that can be after a long wait.”
Klopp said Phillips, who played his first competitive game for the team in last season’s FA Cup victory over Everton, might not have been at Anfield this season.
“It’s a crazy story. Three years ago he was on his way to America to go to college. Then he came to our second team, then we found him, he trained with us and impressed us,” Klopp said.
“In the summer, 12 Championship (second tier) teams wanted him. It was clear he would go and I was fine with it at that moment but it didn’t work out. Good for us. Tonight he was spot on, helped the team incredibly. It was a good performance.”
Victory thanks to a late Diogo Jota strike took reigning champions Liverpool to the top of the table with 16 points from seven matches. [nL1N2HM0IN]
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes
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