Jose Mourinho took some time in the build-up to Tottenham’s trip to Liverpool to question whether the Reds’ injury issues constitutes a crisis.
Jurgen Klopp has been outspoken on his side’s injury troubles this season, and on Wednesday night his side were once more without their three best centre-backs.
Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are both out for (likely) the entire season, while Joel Matip lasted only 45 minutes at Fulham at the weekend with a back injury, and was subsequently unavailable at Anfield for the top of the table clash.
As such, Klopp partnered Fabinho – the Brazilian midfielder doing a masterful job at centre-half this season – with young teenage defender Rhys Williams, selected ahead of Nat Phillips.
For the 19-year-old from Preston, who spent a spell last season on loan playing Non-League football at Kidderminster Harriers, it was a first Premier League start of the campaign, having already made six appearances in Europe – where Williams is ineligible – and two in the Carabao Cup.
And in a showing labelled “incredible” and “outstanding” by his manager, Williams was impressive at the heart of his side’s defence.
He used the ball diligently (77 passes, 87 percent completion ratio), didn’t give away a single foul and made a team high four clearances.
But most notable throughout was his aerial prowess, with Williams winning every aerial duel in which he was involved (6/6).
It was something which both Klopp and Mourinho seemingly noted, with the German detailing how Spurs adapted their approach in the second period to avoid Williams whenever they looked to go from back to front.
As far as compliments go to defenders, actively avoiding them in one form or another is pretty much as good as it gets.
Speaking post-game to Amazon Prime, Klopp noted: “Oh my god! Outstanding, outstanding. Come on, Rhys Williams you can imagine, it’s like the modern-day Alan Shearer he played against, Harry Kane.
“He is so smart, dropping in the right moments. Second half they only played long balls and actually avoided Rhys.
“They played them in the direction of Fabinho and put Harry there – so we had to really fight for these second balls – because Rhys is so strong in the air.”
Klopp was more than happy to eulogise over Williams’ all-round game, also noting his role in the build-up to Liverpool’s opener, and his positional play throughout.
“With the ball as well, he played a pass before our first goal,” he added. “He has the right amount of confidence.
“For a 19-year-old boy you don’t have to explain to other people how it works, but you have to be confident.
“Apart from that, he just kept it simple. Super challenges, but [also] interceptions in the centre when they tried to create counter-attacks, he didn’t drop too early so he won these balls.
“Absolutely incredible game, I have to say.”
Liverpool head to Crystal Palace on Saturday, where it will be interesting to see whether Williams retains his place – depending on Matip’s injury.
With former striker Christian Benteke set to be suspended after being sent off against West Ham, an attack of Jordan Ayew and Wilf Zaha will offer another stern test of Williams’ credentials.
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