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Joël Matip and the Big, Van Dijk-Sized Competition

Liverpool’s German defender praises Virgil van Dijk and sees good things from having more quality in the squad.

Liverpool v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Big Virgil has arrived. Liverpool’s new number four. He’s big. He’s Dutch. He’s got a magic touch. Liverpool’s centre back brotherhood just got a lot taller by average and a fair bit more respectable with the arrival of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton. Jürgen Klopp is not about to plop Van Dijk into the mix straight out of the gate, though. Maybe the Netherlands international makes the eleven or bench for the match against Manchester City but odds are he’s not available for Friday’s FA Cup super derby with Everton.

That’s a brief reprieve for Klopp’s other centre backs before the true competition begins at Melwood. Who’s going to be number two? Who pairs Van Dijk? It’s not obvious to me. It won’t be obvious to Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan or Joël Matip. All three of Liverpool’s veteran central defenders have been a combination of excellent and disastrous at various points through the autumn.

Who can forget Lovren being substituted in a first half because of maybe being lost in his mind on the surface of an alien planet? Or maybe because of having just been Quantum Leap’ed into England 2017? Something was. Off. That day. But the Croatian defender has had his good games, too.

Klavan is sort of a mystery. He’s a Liverpool player. He plays the game the same as the others. Klopp trusts him but maybe nobody else really does. He’s too slow for a defender in a side that should be competing for all the silverware. But it is nice when the Estonian does well. Which he has been, of late. And tip of the cap because hey that’s a pretty sweet gig for the guy, to be joshing around at the prestigious Melwood with the likes of Roberto Firmino and the ghost of Stevie G.

Joël Matip’s a different read than the others. He’s had an up and down season but his main issue has been injury. Last season he was doing the lord’s work out there in grand fashion but recently his actions have been a bit less divine.

Matip is working his way back to full fitness and complete squad immersion so the odd, near-catastrophic event here and there is understandable. Still, does the German centre half edge out the others? Probably. But definitively? Maybe. But actually we don’t know.

“He’s a very good centre back,” said Matip of Van Dijk.

“Having more quality in the squad is a good thing. Of course, it means more competition but that’s what you expect at a big club like Liverpool.

“In every position we have a lot of choice. That will help us forward. Competition pushes players on.”

From the manager’s perspective, it’s a fantastic position to be in, watching your defenders vying for a spot alongside the most expensive defender in the universe. But while Van Dijk is certainly going to be one of the first names on the team sheet when he’s fit, with three competitions ongoing, there will be rotation amongst the defense.

“I don’t think there will be a fixed system,” Matip said of Klopp’s preferred centre-back pairings. “Everyone will have a part to play as we compete in different competitions. I’m not worried about this.”

But then Matip probably does just edge out Lovren and Klavan so he shouldn’t be too worried about it.

It’s a new dawn, though, that spreads across Liverpool country with the arrival of Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool’s defense may finally again be something to be merry about. God, please.

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