How has Joel Matip transformed Liverpool's defence?
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side are not renowned for their defensive acumen. They are the top scorers in the league, with 30, but have let in 14 goals in 12 games at the other end, a trait which has been labelled as their hubris as they look for a first Premier League title.
But is this statistic misleading? Are Liverpool actually much better in defence than they are given credit for?
It is possible to argue that it is not misleading. The Reds concede in most of their games, keeping three clean sheets so far, leaking goals in nine of twelve matches. Not the traditional stamp of a solid defensive outlet.
But there are other factors to consider. The Reds conceded five goals in their opening two games of the season, meaning that they have let in nine in their last ten matches. A rate of 0.9 goals conceded per game is hardly leaky. In those ten games, they have only conceded more than once in a game on one occasion, the 4-2 win at Crystal Palace.
The only tangible difference between Liverpool ‘s defence at the start of the season and now is the introduction of Joel Matip, a free transfer from Schalke, and Loris Karius, the young goalkeeper, formerly of Mainz.
Considering that Karius has looked occasionally shaky, and has barely had any saves to make as Liverpool goalkeeper yet, the massive improvement in defensive solidity must go to the outstanding Matip.
The rangy centre back is a calming influence at the back for the Reds, and this calmness spread through the whole defence. Dejan Lovren is a player who shines next to a good partner and flounders next to a weaker one. He looks massively better next to Matip.
Matip is not only solid defensively, rarely giving up any space to opposition strikers, he can also deal with difficult forwards of all abilities. So far this campaign, the likes of Jamie Vardy, Diego Costa, Zlatan Ibrahimovivc, Harry Kane and Christian Benteke have all failed to have very little impact on him. That’s quite a selection of players to keep quiet.
He is also excellent on the ball, something which appeals greatly to Jurgen Klopp as he tries to keep the ball on the deck. Matip can also play in defensive midfield, and this shows with the calmness he shows in possession. He allows Liverpool to play their game without inviting any further pressure on them.
Not only that, he is a real threat from set pieces at the other end. He has already scored his first goal for the Reds, at Crystal Palace, and came very close to notching on his debut at Spurs. He will likely score four or five goals this season, which is a massive bonus for an already prolific team.
The Reds may not have a reputation as a solid team defensively, but the introduction of Matip is quietly changing this. With him at the back and their deadly trio up front, the Reds may have a more solid base to launch a title challenge than people give them credit for.
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