Liverpool’s Rhys Williams: From non-League at Kidderminster Harriers to filling in for Virgil van Dijk

Rhys Williams has emerged as a viable option for Jurgen Klopp in the Liverpool defence in the absence of Virgil van Dijk; 19-year-old spent last season on loan at Kidderminster Harriers where his development was overseen by now-manager Russell Penn

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Rhys Williams looks like he could be the next Virgil van Dijk, according to Kidderminster Harriers manager Russell Penn who helped oversee his development last season.

"He looks the part; he looks like the next (Virgil) van Dijk and he is performing like it at the moment."

In just his fourth senior appearance for Liverpool, 19-year-old Rhys Williams impressed as a first-half substitute for the injured stand-in centre-back Fabinho in a 2-0 Champions League win against FC Midtjylland on Tuesday.

Earlier this year the Reds academy product was plying his trade in the National League North with Kidderminster Harriers.

But the early signs are that Williams is a viable option for Jurgen Klopp amid Liverpool's defensive injury crisis which began with the ACL injury sustained by Virgil van Dijk earlier this month.

Liverpool's upcoming games

  • Oct 31: West Ham (h)
  • Nov 3: Atalanta (a)
  • Nov 7: Man City (a)
  • Nov 25: Atalanta (h)
  • Nov 28: Brighton (a)
  • Dec 1: Ajax (h)
  • Dec 5: Wolves (h)
  • Dec 9: Midtjylland (a)
  • Dec 12: Fulham (a)

Despite surprise at the rapid nature of Williams' introduction to the first-team fold at Liverpool, Kidderminster manager Russell Penn is in no doubt of his talent having watched first-hand his performances last season.

Penn - who was assistant to John Pemberton when Williams joined Kidderminster - admits the defender initially struggled with the physical demands of non-League football but quickly settled into his stride.

"We definitely knew he had something in football terms straight away because of his ability on the ball, his composure at his age," Penn told Sky Sports News.

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"The way he moved was graceful really and we just knew with his height and his stature that he is going to have a half decent career. The first month I think he'd hold his hands up, he struggled, he got caught, he got bullied a little, pushed off the ball."

Amid managerial upheaval at Kidderminster, Williams played every game for the club up to when the National League season was cut short in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rhys Williams
Image: Rhys Williams has made four appearances for Liverpool so far this season

Fast forward a few months and Williams has started out on the path to match the expectations Liverpool have held for him.

Penn added: "What I do know is he was highly thought of. He was the next best thing because Liverpool kept telling us.

"He was training with the first team during the end of the season and he has been in the mix since the start of pre-season.

"I am expecting big things moving forward. He just needs to keep a level head and keep plugging away."

It remains to be seen whether Klopp will opt to give Williams his Premier League debut from the start against West Ham on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, with Joe Gomez the only fit senior centre-back available amid doubts over whether Joel Matip will have recovered from a muscle injury.

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But Penn, who concedes Klopp will be targeting reinforcements in January, is confident Williams will not be short in belief should a run of games come his way.

"He is a very confident individual," Penn added. "I don't mean that like he is big time and very arrogant. I mean that he knows his ability.

"I can only go [with what I know] as a Kidderminster manager and he knew how good he was at our level last year. You would like to think that is a natural habit to have.

"You don't get that a lot with teenagers. You get very shy teenagers who are very scared going around the first-team environment. He looks to embrace it all."

Klopp bids to calm expectations on Williams

Jurgen Klopp congratulated Rhys Williams after the youngster's solid performance in their 2-0 win over Midtjylland
Image: Jurgen Klopp congratulated Williams after the youngster's performance in their 2-0 win over Midtjylland

Speaking after the 2-0 win against Midtjylland, Klopp said: "He [Williams] did really well. The only problem now is we have four days until the West Ham game, you will make a story of him every day and then he has to prove he can deal with that again.

"Everything was calm around him. We will try to do that as well.

"To be really clear and positive, Rhys was not in one situation tonight a problem for us, he played a really good game."

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