With a club record signing, a prodigious youngster and a same-season World Cup and Champions League finalist ahead of him in the depth chart, Joël Matip was not expected to contribute all that many minutes to Liverpool’s campaign this year. The former Schalke man is an experienced defender, but was the consensus fourth choice centre-half as the 2018/19 season began.
Yet here we are, the Champions League knockout rounds a week away, and all things point to the 28-year old being Jürgen Klopp’s only available central defender — Jome Gomez has recently had surgery on his leg, Dejan Lovren remains on the treatment table with a hamstring injury, and Virgil van Dijk is suspended — as the Reds head to Munich to face the German’s former rivals.
It is lucky, then, that the Cameroonian has overcome the broken collarbone that kept him out of contention throughout the holiday period, and is now only match fitness away from hes best form.
“My collarbone is completely fine now, but of course every player needs some time on the field after an injury to get back to 100% and build up the match fitness, but that is getting better and better,” Matip told the Liverpool Echo.
”I need some time but I feel that I am in a good way and the shoulder is okay. We still have a lot of games to play and I have confidence in myself and trust myself and my qualities, so I hope that I will play in a lot of them.”
Speaking on the team’s current situation — second in the league on goal difference with a game in hand, still in the Champions League — the centre-back was, understandably, positive.
“If somebody had told us that we would be standing in this position, we would have taken it. Now we have to stay positive and I think we certainly have plenty of reasons to do so.
”As a group, I think we have made an improvement and the more time we have had together working as a unit has helped. We have a lot of quality throughout the team and particularly in the centre of defence.”
Indeed, the quality is there, in a way that it arguably hasn’t been for decades. Keeping that quality fit and available as the season gets to the pointy end could be the factor that decides the Reds’ fate this year.