Liverpool had a busy summer of transfer dealings, with Jurgen Klopp and the board able to complete their desired acquisitions early on in the window, allowing the squad to bond together during pre-season. Arguably the stand-out name arriving at Anfield was Sadio Mane from Southampton, primarily because of the fee which he commanded – £34 million.
Another big money move was that of Georginio Wijnaldum, but despite the scale of the sums involved, and their respective positive starts to life on Merseyside, it may well be that neither of these summer additions turn out to be Liverpool’s most important signing of the season.
Joel Matip was a free signing made in January 2016 from Schalke, but only completed once the summer window rolled around. Capitalising on the towering defender’s contract running down, Jurgen Klopp nipped in before anyone else and secured his man. Recently, Emre Can has revealed that the former Dortmund coach has been a fan of Matip for a good number of years.
“Matip is very good for the side. He’s very good on the ball. He was a leader at Schalke and played many years there. I think you need a player like him.
“[Klopp] said to me last year that he always said when he was at Dortmund that when he was at another club he would buy Matip. He liked him a lot and that’s why he brought him here to Liverpool.”
Therefore, following a full recovery from a niggling injury during pre-season, Klopp will be the least surprised of all to see how well Matip is adapting to the English top flight, quickly asserting himself as one of the two first choice centre-halves alongside Dejan Lovren.
On his Premier League debut against Spurs, he was able to complete the significant task of restricting Harry Kane to very limited openings, making 11 clearances when facing off against the North London outfit. This tally across his three league matches to date has now reached 23, demonstrating that he is all too aware of when the simple tasks must be carried out.
Standing at a monstrous 6ft 5in, the Cameroon international is of course a great asset in aerial duels at both ends of the pitch, but it is certainly in defending their own goal that Liverpool require the most assistance. With the vast majority of the team comprising of skillful but diminutive attacking players, The Reds suffer from set pieces. Matip can be a real presence for the Anfield outfit, commanding others around him and making vital headed clearances himself.
Aside from a poorly timed slide tackle in the build-up to Chelsea’s goal on Friday, he has appeared immune to mistakes and defends in a manner reminiscent of Rio Ferdinand or Toby Alderweireld – well capable of engaging attackers high up the field, but not being drawn into making silly challenges, instead preferring to stay on his feet and relying on intelligence and speed over the ground.
Another comparison can be drawn to the former Manchester United and Leeds defender, for The Reds’ number 32 has so far exhibited supreme composure on the ball, and always appears to be confident enough to stride forward with the ball at his feet. This was epitomised during Liverpool’s 2-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge, when the Cameroonian scythed through the heart of the pitch and was even put through behind the Chelsea back-line after a quick exchange of passes with a team-mate. It is hard to imagine any of the Merseyside club’s recent centre-halves possessing either the confidence or ability to operate in such a way.
Furthermore, out of 43 attempted passes against Conte’s men, only two were misplaced, dispelling the myth that his languid appearance on the ball in any way contributes to a less effective distributor. In fact, he is taking the time to assess his options and as with all great players, never appears rushed.
So, although the scintillating Sadio Mané and energetic Gini Wijnaldum may well excite the casual fan more with their attacking bursts and eye-catching dribbles, Joel Matip will help Liverpool where they need it most. When given the time to forge a solid partnership with Dejan Lovren at the heart of the back-line, it is entirely possible that Klopp’s unit will become more defensively sound, and if this materialises, there is no limit to their ambitions this season.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Paul Vause