Nat Phillips is determined an impressive Champions League debut will not represent the pinnacle of his Liverpool career as he seeks to establish himself in Jürgen Klopp’s defence.
The Liverpool manager was full of praise for the 23-year-old following his fine display against RB Leipzig last week, when the Premier League champions put domestic troubles aside to advance into the Champions League quarter-finals. Klopp is set to continue with Phillips and Ozan Kabak at Wolves on Monday as he searches for the consistency in central defence that has eluded Liverpool all season.
The former Bolton academy graduate, who has made only nine Premier League appearances in total, has an opportunity to build on his European bow over the final months of the season. Phillips said: “It was an unbelievable experience and I want to continue to keep having those moments. Obviously, to be able to do that then I have to be competing at a very high level in my career.
“I would say it is important to me that it does not become the biggest occasion or best game that I have ever played in. It would be sad if I go on with the rest of my career and it is already peaked. That would be a shame.
“I try not to think about it too much because you can tie yourself in knots thinking about these things. My thought process is take things day by day, game by game, and try and improve. If you do that you should get your rewards.”
The Bolton-born defender, a self-confessed late developer, only joined Liverpool in 2018 having given up a university scholarship in the United States. He had two spells last season on loan at Stuttgart in Germany’s second tier, helping them win promotion. Phillips admits he harboured doubts over his ability to play at the highest level with Liverpool at the start of this season but with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joël Matip all sidelined – and Klopp not expecting them back until pre-season – Phillips’s confidence has grown in the midst of a defensive injury crisis.
“Premier League football, over the last year, was something I saw as an ambition,” he explained. “I was asked about Champions League football earlier in the season. Not many players get the chance to experience it and you have to earn that right. I haven’t played many games in the Premier League – I can count them on both hands – and I wouldn’t say I have earned that right. Circumstances have dictated it but I still have plenty more to do to earn that right.
“My ambitions are always changing. If you had asked me at the start of the season if I thought I was capable of playing in the Premier League I would have said yes. But whether it was for Liverpool, I wasn’t sure. The demands at Liverpool are so much higher. But I have always felt I would be able to play in a Premier League game and do a job. That’s just the way I have approached it – and continue to. I don’t look too far ahead. I just crack on with working on myself and improving the things that I can get better at to get to where I want to get to.”