Liverpool

Phillips or Williams: Who should be Liverpool's Matip replacement?

Jurgen Klopp has rotated his two youngest defensive options in Joel Matip's absence so far this season but who has fared best?

 
1:36pm on Thursday 7th January 2021
By
David Lynch

Liverpool look set to see out the remainder of the season without defensive reinforcements.

Despite losing Virgil both van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long-term injury, Jurgen Klopp currently has no plans to add a centre-back to his squad in January.

Given Joel Matip's fitness record, that is likely to mean that youngsters Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams will get plenty of opportunities before the campaign is out.

But which one should be Klopp's preferred option? We've looked at the numbers to find out.

Defending

So far this season, Klopp has tended to use Phillips against more physically imposing Premier League opposition, and it is not difficult to see why.

The 23-year-old has won 81% of aerial challenges to Williams' 75% and an average of 18 challenges per match (10 of them aerial) to his rival's 10 (5.3) is testament to his combativeness.

Phillips also leads the way in recoveries (9 to 5.2) and interceptions (5.3 to 4.8).

The numbers appear to show that the Bolton-born academy graduate is a more capable out-and-out defender.

2019-20 comparison

StatNat PhillipsRhys Williams
Aerials won81%75%
Challenges per 901810
Recoveries per 9095.2
Interceptions per 905.34.8

Passing

Of course, while Williams is not match for Phillips physically, he has good cause to argue that he is the better footballer of the two.

The teenager has average a 91% passing accuracy and 2.1 lost balls per match in his outings for Liverpool so far this season.

Phillips, meanwhile, has completed just 85% of his passes while losing possession 4.3 times per 90 minutes on average.

Williams' greater range is also shown by the 17.7 long balls per Premier League game he has completed in comparison to his teammate's 11.3.

2019-20 comparison

StatNat PhillipsRhys Williams
Passing accuracy85%91%
Lost balls per 904.32.1
Long balls per 9011.317.7

Conclusion

Williams and Phillips' contrasting strengths and weaknesses perhaps explain why Klopp has taken a 'horses for courses' approach to selecting his backline this season.

But it remains to be seen whether the German will place more value on picking a consistent partnership from January onward.

If that is to be the case, then a starting spot alongside Fabinho is very much up for grabs for Liverpool's two young hopefuls.

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