The last decade has not been kind for Liverpool when it comes to cohesive back lines. There have been standout defenders in that time, of course: Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher for one, Danish prince Daniel Agger for another. But as a whole, recent history has shown the Reds had a terrible tendency to leak goals.
That troubling trend has been slowly but surely turned around since manager Jürgen Klopp arrived at Anfield. This season, with the addition of Virgil van Dijk and the emergence of Joe Gomez — not to mention some stellar full-backs — Liverpool have only conceded five goals in their first 13 league games.
That’s great for Reds’ fans, but for Joël Matip, one of the first additions that Klopp made to the team, it means significantly more competition for places and significantly less playing time. It doesn’t help matters that Liverpool made an early exit from the League Cup, where Matip likely would have earned some minutes.
Even World Cup runner up and self-proclaimed best center-back in the world Dejan Lovren is finding playing time limited in the face of van Dijk and Gomez’s collective dominance.
While Matip admitted that he was frustrated, he seems to be keeping an optimistic outlook, saying he looks forward to trying to play his way back into Klopp’s plans.
“It is always a challenge to get a permanent place in the starting XI - that is part of football,” he said. “You have to work hard and sometimes that means waiting for your chance. It is a long season and there are a lot of games to go. We are in a good position and we need to do the best we can to stay where we are.”
I’m old enough to remember when Paul Konchesky started for Liverpool against Manchester United, so seeing the likes of van Dijk, Lovren, Gomez, and Matip battling it out for the opportunity to step onto the pitch for Liverpool is great news — even if it might not feel that way for Matip.