Liverpool’s senior centre-backs would be warmly welcomed into the first teams of just about any team in world football.

Yet injuries have deprived Jurgen Klopp of the possibility of playing them for the vast majority of the 2020/21 season.

Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk have collectively played just 27 percent of the available centre-back minutes which the Reds have needed in this campaign, and that figure will have only shrunk after the club has played their final four matches.

Klopp has been forced into fielding 20 different combinations in the centre of Liverpool’s defence this season, and it’s fair to say that the duo of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams would not have been high on the list of preferred options back in pre-season.

Ahead of 2020/21, Phillips had made one senior appearance for the Reds – in an FA Cup win over Everton – while Williams was more accustomed to life in the National League North than in the Premier League. In fact, in terms of appearances made, he still is.

But it looks likely that the Liverpool manager will turn to this inexperienced pair for the trip to Old Trafford on Thursday evening, as Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies remain in the Reds’ treatment room alongside the established centre-backs.

In his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, Klopp was asked if he would be confident going into a match with Manchester United having to rely on Phillips and Williams.

“Yes,” he said. “Rhys is now in a really good moment and that helps. Who will line up, we will see.

“What this season has taught us is don't fix the line-up too early in your head as you might have to change it!”

Klopp is wise to be cautious, but unless Fabinho steps back into defence, it will surely be Phillips and Williams who run out at Old Trafford on Thursday evening.

It says a lot about Liverpool’s instability in defence that their total of 186 minutes together is the 11 th most of any of the pairings which the club have utilised in all competitions this season.

If they do happen to play the full match with United, they’ll move up to fifth in the minutes played table, shortly behind the combination of Gomez and van Dijk, the most used duo in the title winning campaign of 2019/20. What a time to be alive, eh?

Phillips and Williams’ first game together was the 1-0 loss to Fulham. They were not directly at fault for the goal, which came about following a corner when Mohamed Salah dawdled in on the edge of the box and lost the ball to Mario Lemina who scored.

Their next run out came four weeks later and was very brief – six minutes at the end of Liverpool’s 3-0 win at the Emirates Stadium.

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The match was effectively over at that point, as the visitors had gone three goals up two minutes prior to Williams’ introduction from the bench.

Nonetheless, he blocked the only cross which Arsenal attempted while he was on the pitch and Phillips blocked their only shot in that period, so they couldn’t have done any more than they did.

Which brings us to the 2-0 win over Southampton, their second start together. The duo played well overall, even if they needed Alisson Becker to be on form at times to preserve the clean sheet.

With only one goal conceded, their rate of one against every 186 minutes puts Phillips and Williams in fourth place among the pairings who’ve played at least two full matches together.

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And therein lies the problem with assessing Liverpool ’s defence this season. The sample sizes for most duos are miniscule, and a trip to face United is far harder than home games with Fulham and Southampton.

Williams has already played at Old Trafford this season, in the FA Cup, and made a mistake for the second United goal.

But he has only made one other Opta-defined defensive error in all competitions this season ( per SofaScore ) while Phillips hasn’t made any.

Klopp may have little choice but to trust them at present, but his young charges could not have been expected to have done any better than they have so far.