A pre-season injury meant that new signing Jöel Matip started the season at his new club on the sidelines. Having returned to action and rounded into form over the month of September, fans are now beginning to get a good idea of the player the club signed on a free transfer last summer.
What they’re seeing from the imposing 25-year-old has been impressive, with Matip’s towering presence and calmness on the ball helping to steady Liverpool’s backline, providing the foundation on which the success or failure of Jürgen Klopp’s high-press and fluid attack is built.
“To play as a team and have a great spirit together,” said Matip when asked what the goal was for his role in the side. “Be compact, use the skills of my teammates and myself, and to press teams so that no opponent feels safe with the ball. They always have to be afraid that we are coming!”
Certainly against Hull City that intent was realised, with Liverpool defending from the front and swarming Hull City into countless turnovers. And when Hull did manage to send a searching ball forward, Matip was there to sweep up, with Liverpool only conceding a single shot on target all game.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, that one shot—off a corner from a James Milner mis-handle in the second half—led to a Hull goal. Outside of that one moment, though, Liverpool’s opponents were never a threat, and with Matip’s calming presence they seem a side heading in the right direction defensively.
“A solid defence always helps to win games and is always necessary for a good team,” Matip added. “We have to improve but we know this. We will work towards getting better and keeping clean sheets because sometimes we may only be able to score one and we want that to be enough to win.”
Matip, meanwhile, has enjoyed his first weeks in English football, and though he doesn’t see a great deal of difference between the Premier League and Bundesliga at its best, he does believe there is greater competition and greater physicality on display from the top teams to the bottom.
“I have watched a lot of Premier League games and a lot of Liverpool matches and knew playing in this league was what I wanted to do,” he said. “There is so much competition in this league—no other country has the same level of competition. Hopefully it will help make me become a better player.
“Both leagues have a high tempo, but I think in the Premier League there are many more situations where there is a greater physicality. That is the most specific difference: needing to use your body more.”