By the end of the 2018-19 season, as Liverpool secured their sixth European Cup and wrapped a 97-point league campaign with the best defensive record in England, Joël Matip looked the unquestionable first choice to partner with Virgil van Dijk.
It didn’t start out like that. It started out with Matip fourth on the depth chart behind Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez. Now, with another season on the horizon, Matip is determined not to let things slip; to stay on top of the defensive pecking order.
“You start new and last season doesn’t matter,” the 27-year-old defender noted. “You only have to take the things, learn the things from last year, but we all start from new. We have a lot of good players. I try to play as much as possible, but we will see.”
While Matip had fallen down the depth chart at the start of last season, it’s worth remembering he arrived at Anfield from Schalke as one of the Bundesliga’s top centre halves and a player who would have been expected to fetch £35M on the open market.
A few years on—and a few rounds of transfer inflation later—that fee would have been even higher. That he arrived on a free transfer, though, meant that some tended to overlook just how talented a player Matip was and is—and the injuries didn’t help.
Last season, though, when he got the chance he showed just how good he can be. And, perhaps more importantly, showed he might be able to stay fit—something that was only a problem for him in one season of seven as a regular for Schalke.
“We have a high-quality squad,” Matip added. “Everyone needs to step in if someone is missing, injured, or not in the best shape. We are looking good and I am looking forward to the season.”