Liverpool academy coach Barry Lewtas has hailed the attitude of Nat Phillips, as he revealed the centre-back asked to play in the under-21s’ 4-1 EFL Trophy loss to Bolton.
Phillips has not featured for Jurgen Klopp’s senior side since May as a consequence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez returning to full fitness, as well as the summer signing of Ibrahima Konate and the excellent recent form of Joel Matip.
Nevertheless, Lewtas praised the 24-year-old, who he coached during the pair’s academy days at Bolton, for his commitment, with Phillips requesting to be involved on Tuesday as he has struggled to climb back up the Anfield pecking order.
“Yeah, I think so,” Lewtas said, when asked if Phillips’ selection was down to the player.
“The first-team staff spoke to us and told us he was keen to play and that’s what the group is here for, to give lads minutes.”
It’s a serious contrast to the life that Phillips became accustomed to last season as he faced the likes of four-time Champions League winners Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, before playing in his hometown in front of 2,299 spectators on Tuesday evening.
However, despite the deceptive scoreline, the young Reds demonstrated composed, resolute defending in the opening stages of the contest as they limited the home side to minimal chances, with Phillips’ mentoring skills next to 18-year-old Jarell Quansah impressing Lewtas.
“It was a chance to give Billy [Koumetio] a little bit of a breather and it was Jarell’s first game back,” he continued.
“So to get Nat alongside him was really good. I thought they were brilliant in the first half.”
It remains to be seen what the future has in store for the 24-year-old after signing a new four-year contract with Liverpool on the final day of the summer transfer window.
But there will be plenty of young Reds in the squad who will be dreaming of following the footsteps of the Bolton-born defender and making the full-time transition to the senior side, something this competition can help lay the foundations for according to their manager.
“I think this gives you a little bit of something different,” Lewtas explained.
“This is just probably a little bit different, players a little bit more battle-hardened.
“We just had a few moments of inexperience. I think we can come away from here and think we gave a good performance.”
Tuesday’s fixture marked the Reds’ third campaign in the competition, with the club still searching for that elusive first win after previous defeats to Oldham, Fleetwood, Accrington Stanley, Wigan, Tranmere, Port Vale, Rochdale and now Bolton.
Yet despite the scoreline contradicting plenty of the courageous performances the academy have put on during that time, there have been many sizeable triumphs for all those involved at Kirkby.
The likes of Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and Conor Bradley all featured in the EFL Trophy prior to making their debuts for Klopp’s side, something Lewtas was quick to highlight in his post-match debrief to reporters.
“This is what we want to try and do. The Conor Bradley one is a prime example,” he said.
“Conor played in the under-23s last year as an under-18, he had lots of tough days like you would have seen but that’s why he can go out and play at Norwich, because he has had those experiences.”
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