There is a strong argument that Liverpool wouldn’t have been close to San Siro without Nat Phillips.
Certainly, the emergence of the stable and strong defender was timely given how his fellow center-backs crowded the treatment room last season.
Phillips ‘temperament and pragmatic approach were the basis of the Reds’ remarkable run to the finish line to secure third place in the Premier League and, of course, qualification for the League of Nations. champions.
But with injuries dwindling, he has not been required this season, previously limited to 45 minutes in the Carabao Cup victory at Preston North End in October, with Jurgen Klopp strongly hinting that the 24-year-old could be authorized to leave in January.
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So Milan were the perfect venue for Phillips to be placed in the showcase, a step that his form last season and his patience well deserved.
He and Liverpool’s best player Ibrahima Konate, who is encouragingly improving, have appeased the threat that 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic still has in his aging bones, Phillips even produced a Cruyff turn in his own area which has left the Swede and his teammate Franck Kessie having to pay to get back into the stadium.
There was a feeling, however, that this was a death for the keeper, Konate symbolizing Liverpool’s long-term future as Phillips braces for an exit.
And if this turns out to be one of his last appearances for the Reds, then what a way to bow out.
Answer to the Minamino question
So continues the magical mystery visit of Takumi Minamino.
Having featured in all three forward positions at various times this season, the Japan international has found himself in midfield three in the much-changed Liverpool squad.
It wasn’t the first time he had been there – Brighton absent last season comes to mind – but it is not his most usual position.
Nonetheless, with strong pressing, a good pace of work and a few good touches, Minamino held on but was disappointed with a slack game when he defended the near post where Milan took the lead.
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But while Minamino now seems settled at Liverpool, there is no doubt that his best position is higher up the pitch, as he demonstrated when he resumed the attack in the last quarter.
Likewise, Tyler Morton has yet to prove himself as a central midfielder, at least at the senior level, which now has more starts – two – in the Champions League than any other first-team competition.
Exiting at the San Siro could easily have been passed. However, the 19-year-old could just as easily have played for his junior team Greenleas FC at Wallasey, so much he played with unfazed confidence.
For Minamino and Morton, there will certainly be more to come this season.
Wrong doit Wrong
There is nothing quite like a meaningless match for Mohamed Salah. Not when there are goals to score.
A predatory finish for Liverpool’s equalizer has seen the Egyptian score 20 goals in 21 appearances this season, making him the first Reds player since Ian Rush to reach that benchmark in five successive campaigns.
It was also the fastest Salah had reached 20 and made him the third fastest to get there in Liverpool history, after Rush (November 8) and Roger Hunt (November 25).
The fact that Salah even made the trip to Italy had been called into question in some quarters, with Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Virgil van Dijk remaining at home with James Milner suspended.
But the Egyptian’s indisputable commitment to success at Liverpool – both for himself and for the team – surely underscores, if needed, why a new contract simply needs to be canceled.
Even with a scratch squad, the Reds knocked out the Serie A leaders in their own backyard having already won the Spanish champions and battled at home in Porto.
No wonder Salah says he wants to stay. Why would anyone want to be anywhere other than Anfield right now?