After only a handful of games into his Liverpool career, Joël Matip was widely agreed to be essential to his new club's defensive stability. After last weekend's defeat to Bournemouth, it appears that Liverpool's defence lacks both composure and resilience without him. This is why Jürgen Klopp is delighted to have the Cameroon international around during the African Cup of Nations.
“We had this talk a few weeks ago so I am not surprised,” Klopp said. “Players have to make these decisions by themselves, there is nothing the club can do. For Joel it is different because he has grown up in Germany. It’s good for us.”
Klopp went on to praise Matip's influence and hinted that Liverpool's second league defeat of the season involved poor play from his centre backs. He did point out, however, that the goals conceded in the first defeat should have been prevented higher up the pitch. Room for improvement, then, from all areas of the team.
“Obviously he has had a good influence,” Klopp said. “He is a good player and adapted soon to what we need.
“The centre-halves (Dejan Lovren and Lucas Leiva) were not perfect around the goals. It’s pretty likely most of the time that when you concede goals the centre-halves are around and could have done better.
“At Burnley, the other game we lost, we should have defended the goals much earlier than in the centre-half region. We made similar mistakes again and again a team used it.
“Joel is a wonderful player but Lucas and Dejan and Ragnar (Klavan) and Joe Gomez in the future - they are really good football players and will do a wonderful job for Liverpool.”
It's interesting that Joe Gomez's name was mentioned along with the four senior centre backs, and the young English defender is clearly being earmarked as a option in the middle of the defence. The 19-year-old has been out for over a year with an anterior cruciate ligament injury but made his return to action last month in a behind closed doors friendly.
Hopefully there'll be space for Gomez to grow and Matip to remain fit over the coming months. Ragnar Klavan is back up, Lucas Leiva is a squad option, and Dejan Lovren has a history of wilting. Hopefully can Matip to remain fit over the coming months as Lovren needs a centre back partner as well as a guide on the pitch.