Honigstein references Nat Phillips to explain why Konate is in great hands with Klopp
If Klopp can make Phillips look good...
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Raphael Honigstein has lauded Liverpool’s first major signing of the summer, Ibrahima Konate.
In amongst the praise for the Frenchman, the German football expert pointed to the recent example of Nathaniel Phillips’ impressive deputising in the Reds’ backline as an explanation for why the former RB Leipzig star will be in very good hands at Anfield.
"Very few players go to Liverpool and don’t improve since Klopp has arrived. There is the odd one, but by and large players tend to get better. I think that’s another reason that he wanted to go there," the German journalist told liverpoolfc.com.
"Klopp, being a former centre-back himself even though he is always very modest about his playing career, has been pretty good at getting a lot out of his defenders – whenever they’re fit, of course.
"Konate will have seen the development some of these players have made, even if you look at what’s happened to Nat Phillips since he moved back.
"I think he’ll just feel very confident that he can become a) a regular, b) a very important player for this team, and c) that Klopp will help him to become the best he can be."
Whilst frustrating at times when comparing our spending habits with the likes of our wealthier rivals in the Premier League, our recent habit of turning young talent (either bought or developed) into world-beaters is a party trick that will never get old.
Though we wouldn’t classify the likes of Phillips as a world-class star fit to stand alongside our very own Dutch colossus in Virgil van Dijk, the Englishman has been far from unreliable when called upon.
Taking into account his form since the turn of the year, the Bolton-born centre-back presided over 11 wins in his last 14 league games for us, playing an important part in our frankly ludicrous return of 26 points from our final 10 games.
If you’re fond of win percentages (too bad if you’re not!), Liverpool have won over 78% of their games with Phillips in the heart of our back four.
Of course, that statistic doesn’t account for his involvement across the entire Premier League season - in 17 appearances, the man many of us fondly refer to as the ‘Bolton Baresi’ was involved in 12 victories, which equates to just over a 70% win rate.
Let’s compare this against the two tightest defences in the league, Manchester City and Chelsea, who only shipped in 32 and 36 league goals respectively compared to our 42 (the fourth-lowest in the English top-flight).
Taking a look at “the greatest defender of all time” Ruben Dias’ numbers to start with, the summer signing played 32 times for the Premier League champions this term, with Pep Guardiola’s men securing 23 league victories when the Portuguese was present in the backline.
Digging into the percentages, City’s win rate in the Premier League stands at just over 71% with the former Benfica star across the entire season.
Dear oh dear… Hardly Ballon d’Or material is it?
Now let’s move on to Chelsea and we’ll go with Antonio Rudiger who enjoyed a strong second-half of the season with the London outfit and has a similar sample size of league games (19) to work with in comparison to Phillips.
The Champions League-winners (congrats, by the way) won 10 of the 19 league fixtures the German played in, which, as you can imagine, won’t look great as a percentage…
It equates to a 52% win rate for the Blues… (for the sake of fairness, we had a look at Cesar Azpilicueta who played 26 times in the league for Thomas Tuchel’s men and it doesn’t look great either - only a 53% win rate for the Spaniard).
Arguments will be made that it was Dias’ first season in the Premier League and that City will look even stronger next season after a successful bedding-in period and that Chelsea switched managers mid-season…
But since when was Nathaniel Phillips a starter for Liverpool?
And if the excuse of mass injuries (as many neutrals love to label such an explanation for our varied form this term) isn’t good enough to excuse our own relatively poor season, then why on earth should we treat our rivals’ explanations as being any different?
Let’s not forget either that this is a Phillips who lead the backline without talismanic centre-half Virgil van Dijk, nor his second-in-command in Joe Gomez, nor our third-choice in Joel Matip, for much of the campaign.
Alas, we’ve gone on something of a tangent here, but it serves as a perfect example of why our latest addition to the squad will be in extremely good hands with Jurgen Klopp and the coaching staff at Liverpool.
If our beloved German can squeeze that much out of Phillips, can we even begin to comprehend how much potential Klopp can get out of a man who some claim has an even higher talent ceiling than Konate’s former RB Leipzig partner Dayot Upamecano?
The sky could very well be the limit for the young Frenchman if he can move on from his prior injury struggles.