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Phillips and Kabak: the duo who could solve Klopp’s centre back conundrum

Nathaniel Phillips and Ozan Kabak are not a glamourous defensive unit and they’re certainly a fall from grace, but their robust qualities could turn them into unlikely heroes.

Klopp has used over 20 different centre-back pairings this season in an attempt to plug the Virgil Van Dijk shaped hole in his defence. But finally, after months of chopping and changing, Klopp may have landed on a perfect formula – Phillips and Kabak.

Nathaniel Phillips has risen the ranks from Bolton’s u23s and is now Jurgen Klopp’s first choice CB. The English defender, much like his manager, has experience in Germany after playing for VfB Stuttgart for over a year. Compared to Van Dijk, Phillips is much more of a basic centre back and has been labelled as a ‘kick it and head it’ centre-half across social media. This might be true, but Phillips has been immense in the games he has played – keeping two clean sheets from two Champions League games and winning 75% of his tackles.

His partner, Ozan Kabak, has now played six games and kept three clean sheets. Kabak also came from the Bundesliga, playing for last-placed Schalke. Kabak is the less experienced defender and is actually one of Liverpool’s youngest centre backs, at 20 years old. The Turkish youngster certainly looks more technical than Phillips and his range of passing and composure has impressed so far.

The real genius of this pairing involves a totally different player – Fabinho. Klopp’s decision to play midfielders in defence has cost Liverpool on several occasions this season, leaving the heart of the Liverpool team unbalanced and significantly weakened.

The Reds embarked on another Champions League quest on Wednesday night after beating RB Leipzig 4-0 over two legs. The game was a perfect example of how badly Liverpool have missed their senior midfielders playing in midfield. Fabinho’s calming influence and snapping challenges slowed the game down and protected the defence. His presence influenced Phillips and Kabak, who kept their second clean sheet together in two games.

No one expected Liverpool’s top four senior centre backs to be injured all season and certainly, no one expected Kabak and Phillips to be involved in Liverpool’s Champions League charge – a strange pairing, but none the less, a strong one.

Next up the Reds face Wolves in the Premier League. Given the success of Wednesday’s game, it’s likely Klopp will field a similar starting XI. This will be a completely different test for Phillips and Kabak, who will be faced will more intricate and tricky players to defend against, including the likes of Pedro Neto, Rúben Neves and Adama Traoré.

Another result on Monday night could get the ball rolling for Jurgen Klopp’s side though and he could look to utilise this pairing for the remainder of the season.

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