After conceding five goals in their opening two Premier League fixtures of the season, it was quite clear that Liverpool still had real problems in central defence. Mamadou Sakho is both injured and seemingly out of favour. Dejan Lovren flits between being a defensive powerhouse and a clumsy idiot. Ragnar Klavan is a decent back-up player but no better than that.
Joel Matip then, had a great deal riding on his first Premier League start in order to show that this Liverpool team can be successful at the back.
After making his first competitive start in the midweek 5-0 win over Burton Albion, Matip came into the side alongside Dejan Lovren in order to try and keep the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen quiet.
For the large part, Matip succeeded in this aim with consummate ease. After a frantic first ten minutes, when everyone on the pitch looked a bit shaky, the Cameroon international grew into the game, dominating both Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen with his calm presence on the ball and excellent positional play.
There was a moment of concern for the Reds when Matip blocked off Janssen as he chased a ball into the penalty area, but the referee saw nothing wrong with the challenge. It may have been robust from the ex-Schalke man, but rather than really foul Janssen, he just stood their and blocked the Dutchman’s path. Although it can be argued that a free-kick would have been given elsewhere on the pitch, a penalty would have been a harsh call.
It was testament to Matip’s performance that Spurs’ only real clear-cut chance was their goal, of which the centre back played no negative role. James Milner was sucked out of position, allowing Eric Dier to cross, and Nathaniel Clyne got caught up in the middle to allow Rose the room to slot in. Had it not been for this lapse from Liverpool’s full-backs, they may well have left White Hart Lane with all three points.
What was all the more impressive about his performance was that Matip had a very interrupted pre-season, missing a lot of game time and training thanks to a persistent ankle niggle. This means that his exceptional performance was made when not fully fit. His potential to get better is a very exciting prospect.
Matip also showed his prowess at the other end of the pitch, hitting the bar with a clever flicked header from a corner. After scoring four goals for Schalke last season, the Cameroonian showed he will be a danger from corners and free-kicks, adding another dimension to Liverpool’s already potent goalscoring threat.
Although he would have been disappointed not to emerge on the winning side, Matip can be extremely proud of his Liverpool debut. He was calm and assured both on and off the ball, and looked right at home in the Premier League environment. There’s plenty more to come from him this season, and Reds fans should be very excited.
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