The central defender had been widely expected to feature in that contest but when manager Brendan Rodgers elected not to expose the 26-year-old to the maelstrom, Phillips instead found himself filling a different role, that of Celtic supporter.
It was a strange way to begin life at a new club but to have gleaned that experience of the bampottery that is the Glasgow derby – albeit a few hundred metres away from the action itself – will do Phillips no harm ahead of his expected Celtic debut against Dundee this weekend.
“The Rangers game just came a bit soon, that’s all it was,” explained the one-time Stuttgart and Bournemouth loanee. “There was some talk about maybe playing but the important thing was the team got the win. I was at Ibrox – I just couldn’t go out into the stand.
“I was in the dressing room beforehand, at half-time and the end of the game to be amongst it all. But for the match itself I watched it on TV in the media room. I could still hear the atmosphere from in there. It was an entertaining game to watch and quite intense at the end. But it was great to be there to support the boys.
“The TV was about four or five seconds behind the action, right enough. At one point I could hear cheers and people came into the room to watch the replays - then it [Kemar Roofe’s ‘goal’] was disallowed! It whetted the appetite to play in a game like that. But, at the same time, I didn’t really need my appetite whetting. Seeing that game, and being in among it, just gave me a taste of what’s to come.”
Phillips is not the first member of his family to play in Glasgow. Dad Jimmy was on the books at Rangers for a period early in the Graeme Souness era, a decade before Nat was even born. There can’t be many father-son duos who have played on either side of the Old Firm divide but Phillips Jr said it wasn’t really a conversation when Rodgers first went cap in hand to Liverpool to ask for defensive reinforcements.
“My dad is just excited for me,” he explained. “He’s had his career and now I have mine – and they are two separate things. My dad wants me to be playing games at a high level and that’s what I’ll hopefully be doing at Celtic. The only advice he gave me was to say he played for Rangers so I’d be asked about it!
“But there was no specific advice in terms of Glasgow itself. He’ll be coming up to visit and I know he enjoyed living in the city. But generally my dad, when we speak about my career, it’s mainly on a game by game basis.
“I’ll chat to him after games to see what he thought. But in terms of the move itself he thought it was a great one for me.”
Phillips is no fresh-faced novice. Although games have proved hard to come by at Liverpool in recent times, he still racked up 20 appearances in the 2020/21 campaign, a season bookended by successful promotion-winning stints with Stuttgart and then Bournemouth.
The defender comes across as a methodical, pragmatic type who prefers to have set goals to achieve rather than merely drifting along. Joining a club, then, where winning trophies is expected rather than merely wished for should suit him to a tee.
“With anything in life you want to be moving towards an end goal,” he adds. “It’s good that Celtic have that here. They want to be winning trophies. They’re not just looking to survive as some teams might be in other areas of football.
“In Germany I had that with Stuttgart – it was promotion or nothing in the 2. Bundesliga. When I went to Bournemouth we had the end goal of winning promotion, at Liverpool there were high demands there and it’s the same here. I quite enjoy that and it brings the best out of me. It just makes everything more meaningful when you’ve got something to strive towards.”
Were Phillips to ever compile a YouTube package to showcase his skills then his drag-back to flummox none other than the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a Champions League match against Milan would surely be included. The 26 year-old is very much a by-the-book central defender but, as the future son-in-law of Liam Gallagher acknowledges, sometimes you just have to roll with it.
“At the time I was just glad to get out of the trouble in the game situation,” he recalled. “It was only after the game when people were coming up to me and talking about it that I thought it must have looked half decent!
“But it wasn’t a scenario where I thought before it ‘Oh, I’m going to send him the wrong way’. I was going to whack it out of play and he’s gone to block it, so it was more of an instinctive move. He didn’t say anything to me about it, and I wouldn’t like to ask!
“I fractured my cheekbone in that game off the back of his head. I think it might have been after that incident. He’s gone to flick it on, I’ve gone through the back, and he’s flicked his head back. There’s a nice picture where you can see a big dent in my face!”