The 2021 January Transfer Window is officially open! And with that, we’re going to be taking a look at clubs with a bit of a blackhole in their team, that desperately needs to be covered before the end of next summer. We’re going to match that blackhole up with one player who could potentially fill that void if a move were to be made in January, by assessing and analyzing a player that is a perfect match for the team’s style of play. Today, it’s all about Liverpool’s Nat Phillips, and why he’d be a perfect fit for West Ham United.
WEST HAM’S INJURY CRISIS & NEEDEmbed from Getty Images
David Moyes has done a magnificent job since taking over at West Ham United, not only in terms of their results, but also in ensuring his squad has a healthy mix of experience and youth. Each position has a capable replacement to come into the mix, particularly in the defensive line, where West Ham have suffered the most injuries this season. While the Hammers would love a Michail Antonio back-up (Gaetan Laborde anyone?), it’s hard to make a case for the Hammers actually needing to upgrade or replace Antonio, especially with Jarrod Bowen a capable option who can shift into the position. On the other hand, West Ham could certainly use an upgrade at centre-back. Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma are border-line exceptional defenders, while the team have gotten more than their money’s worth out of Craig Dawson and Issa Diop as back-ups. But the drop-off in recent months has been noticeable, and West Ham haven’t picked up as many points as they did at the start of the season with Ogbonna and Zouma available. Combine that with Moyes’ tendency to deploy a back-three when the right time presents itself, and another defender would be a useful acquisition. In this case, it’s not quite a blackhole, but a position that could seriously be improved. So to fill that void, we suggest Liverpool’s Nathaniel Phillips, who played a massive part in the club’s top four finish last season.
NAT PHILLIPS’ KEY CHARACTERISTICSEmbed from Getty Images
Last season, it became a bit of a running joke on Futbol Masterminds just how much I loved to praise Nat Phillips. The man was a warrior at the back for the Reds, and played an understated role for them in the absence of Virgil Van Dijk. While it was clear for all to see that 6’3 centre-back didn’t quite possess the same class and composure as Van Dijk, he was more similar in style of play than any of his teammates. Phillips is a beast in the air, who wants to challenge for every ball. He doesn’t shy away from duels, to the extent of nearly heading Alisson before Alisson headed the ball in that historic goal last season. This is exactly why he’d be a perfect fit for West Ham. Not the fact that he nearly headed Alisson, but for the fact that he wants to win everything.
West Ham’s defenders are not pretty with their play, but they are robust, towering defenders who are hungry for the ball in both boxes. Phillips won more aerial duels (5.9) and made more clearances (8.7) per 90 last season than 99% of the players in his position, making him an extraordinary option for any team looking to improve their defensive line. It’s also not as though Phillips’ numbers in possession were bad, in fact his progressive passing numbers were top notch, and his willingness to thrust long passes forward again showcases some Van Dijk-like qualities, which would suit a team like West Ham well.
You might be thinking at this point in the article – especially if you have never watched Phillips before – why more clubs aren’t taking a look at him. Well, as mighty and powerful as he is, the 24-year-old is not the most elegant of defenders. He struggles in 1v1 duels, has a dreadful tackle percentage (17%), and he’s not exactly the kind of player you’d want on the ball for long periods of time. But again, his passing percentages are good, he has sound positional understanding, and he possesses a fearless attitude when it comes to putting his body on the line for the greater good of the team. So if you can construct a system where the defensive line have a very low percentage of 1v1 duels, particularly the centre-backs, then you allow a player like Phillips to do what he does best (blocking, heading and clearing), without forcing him to do what he’s not particularly good at (1v1 dueling and tackling). That, in a nutshell, ladies and gentleman, is West Ham United.
Finally, we’d be remised not to mention the fact that West Ham’s defenders are all set-piece threats, particularly Craig Dawson. So anyone coming in to improve upon Dawson would need to possess the same ability. Phillips only scored 1 goal for Liverpool last season, but his aerial prowess would suggest that with the right coaching, he could be equally lethal.
PLAYER COMPARISONSEmbed from Getty Images
When looking at the strengths of Nat Phillips and David Moyes’ West Ham United, it’s a perfect match. But West Ham need to identify a centre-back who can not only fit their style, but outperform the players they currently have in the position. So let’s take a look at how the Liverpool man compares to West Ham’s current options, and another potential target in Burnley’s James Tarkowski. To do this, we’ve taken a look at what Phillips accomplished in 2020-21 with Liverpool, compared to the form of Tarkowski, Dawson and Diop this season in 2021-22.
Nat Phillips’ defensive stats excel above his colleagues, and even in a possession heavy Liverpool side, the 6’3 defender still put up positive numbers. He places first or second on all but one category (tackle %), with a massive aerial duel percentage that would suit West Ham’s set-piece prowess incredibly well. His tackle % is not drastically different from Dawson’s in that one below par category, and significantly better than Issa Diop’s. Meanwhile, he beats his fellow defenders on pressures applied by quite some margin, again in a Liverpool team with a lot of possession, which was accompanied by a higher success rate for his team than Tarkowski and Dawson. Tarkowski would be an excellent defensive acquisition, but he’s also 29 years old, compared to Phillips who at 24 is yet to reach his peak.
POSSESSION + ATTACK
Nat Phillips outperforms the others in every single possession or attacking stat we wanted to examine, except goals per 90, which he loses to Tarkowski by just 0.01. While it’s normal for a player at Liverpool to have more progressive passes and progressive carries than a player at Burnley or West Ham, the success of these actions suggests that he could outshine Dawson and Diop in all aspects of possession. His long passing percentage beats Diop by a considerable amount, and so too does his passes into the final third. He also completed more shot-creating actions last season than his contenders have in 2021-22, and for what it’s worth, scored a goal. The stats suggest that Phillips wouldn’t just be an upgrade on Diop and Dawson, but an absolute steal.
TRANSFER LOGISTICSEmbed from Getty Images
Nat Phillips is currently fifth choice centre-back at Liverpool, behind Van Dijk, Matip, Gomez, and Konate. Barring another massive injury crisis, Jurgen Klopp is safe to let Phillips go and seek pastures new. According to Transfermarkt, his current value is estimated to be around £7 million. That would be an absolute bargain for the Hammers, especially considering how useful another centre-back would be in their current climate, and his age. The deal therefore seems like an absolute no-brainer, and one not just West Ham, but clubs like Burnley should be considering as well. When you compare him to Tarkowski, estimated to cost around £20 million, it’s crazy to think that no one’s taking a punt at the Liverpool man. West Ham have more than enough funds for a £7 million transfer, and should not shy away from adding another defender into their ranks, especially considering their injury crisis.
While West Ham would love a Michail Antonio back-up, we suggest that they go into the market for another centre back instead – one who could help them put up a genuine challenge for the top four. That man might be James Tarkowski, but at 29 years old and a higher price, West Ham would be wiser to go for Liverpool’s Nat Phillips. Phillips outperforms Dawson, Diop and Tarkowski in several statistical categories, and would be an exceptional signing for David Moyes’ intended tactics. At £7 million, it’s an absolute no brainer.
So there it is! An analysis of why Nat Phillips is a perfect fit for West Ham United. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, and stay tuned for more in this January Transfer Window series. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
More in this series…
-> Why Jonathan David is perfect for Arsenal
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