Joel Matip began the campaign with an injury, and quickly discovered himself down the pecking order of Liverpool centerbacks. In fact, he found himself as fourth, arguably fifth-choice centerback, behind Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren, and maybe even not-a-centerback Fabinho.
First, young Joe Gomez took the role with aplomb, and looked to have locked down the position until he was “fantastically tackled” into a near season-ending injury. Then Degsy took the wheel, until inevitably getting injured and/or picking up some cold or flu. Then Matip got a chance, and started performing well until breaking his collarbone on the last kick of the game against Napoli.
It wasn’t until late January, after going into full crisis-mode at centerback, that Matip finally got a lengthy run in this side. He had his shaky moments, but has grown into the role as the season progressed.
“At the beginning of the season I was struggling with injuries and other lads did very well, so there was no reason to change,” Matip said in an interview with the club’s official website.
”But in the second half I could play and could improve. I feel good.
”You are waiting for this. And then if you can use it, it’s not a bad feeling - it’s not the worst feeling.”
Not the worst feeling, indeed. Despite the fact that Lovren and Gomez are back fit, Matip appears to be a nailed-on starter for the final. It’s amazing what a long run in the team will do for rhythm and confidence.
“It was a great season and we can finish it. It’s the biggest game during this season and we will do everything for this.
”It will be a completely different game, but we know we can beat them and we are looking forward.”
Liverpool should be confident against Spurs, even if the last several outings have been tight. The Reds haven’t lost to Tottenham since the fall of 2017, in the sad pre-Virgil van Dijk days of makeshift defending. Of course anything can happen in a final, but if Liverpool and Matip perform at the same level they have throughout the second half of the season, they will be hard to beat, even in a one-off match.