Liverpool defenders have gotten a lot of press over the past year. Virgil van Dijk won the Premier League and UEFA Player of the Year awards. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson broke records for the numbers of assists in the league last season, and are a large component of the team’s (normally) high flying attack. The last member of the cohort, however, has not earned the plaudits the others have. After his consistently stellar play, Joel Matip deserves the recognition.
The tall Cameroonian defender went from afterthought to nailed on starter last season after injuries to Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren. Since last winter, Matip has become undroppable next to Van Dijk. As teams have tried to find ways around the imperious Dutch defender, they have often targeted Liverpool’s right side of the defense, especially with the space left behind Alexander-Arnold as he pushes high in the attack. Joel Matip has quietly and consistently been there to clean things up.
While stats don’t tell the whole story, let’s take a moment to highlight a few things from this season. Matip is second on the team with tackles won (11), winning 85%. He’s also second in the team in interceptions, which is essential for a team playing such a high line. The gangley defender has also won an absurd 88% of all headers (36 of 41).
An aspect of the defender’s game that can’t be quantified with statistics are his slaloming runs with the ball. While Van Dijk will ping a diagonal ball to the fullbacks or drop an audacious ball over the top onto the foot of Mohamed Salah, Matip uses is deceptively good dribbling ability to break the lines when options are not available for an easy pass.
While Matip is slowly entering the consciousness of pundits, he has already garnered the respect of the fans, and more importantly, his manager, Jurgen Klopp.
“In a world of big transfer fees, to sign a player like Joel Matip on a free transfer is incredible,” said the Red’s boss. ”It was maybe one of the best pieces of business we did in the last few years.”
Klopp was keen to point out the run of form Matip has been on.
“Joel is in a really good moment - long, long, long may it continue. That would be really cool.”
It would be really cool indeed, Jurgen, really cool indeed.