After signing a pre-conrtact agreement on a four year deal on February 15th of this year, Matip officially joined the club on July 1st, supplanting Cameron Branagan as Liverpool's No. 32.
DOB: 8/8/1991 (24) | Height: 6'5" (1.95 meters)
2015-16 Season: 41 appearances
4 goals, 3 assists; 3 yellows, 0 reds
Born in Germany after his Cameroonian father married a native of the country in which he carved out his professional football career, Matip was snapped up at the age of eight to join the well-respected youth academy of his hometown club, Vfl Bochum, to begin his efforts at following in his father's footsteps.
And follow he did: at the age of nine he joined Schalke's more prestigious academy, Knappenschmeide, which has churned out the following footballers, amongst others: Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, Bendikt Howedes, Julian Draxler, and Oliver Kahn's favorite player and former Arsenal unbeaten, Jens Lehmann. All of those men, excluding Lehmann, of course, are currently part of Die Mannschaft.
Liverpool fans will be heartened to know Schalke's academy seeks the following, according to former director Ged Roddy: the most important factors are to be fast, quick in decisions with technical skills and tactical skills, but also with strong character and an identity with the club. On the heels of Wales' and Iceland's successes, on the heels of our own undeniably iconic victory over Dortmund this Spring, and given Klopp's and Liverpool's very entrenched culture of a holy trinity girding our great club, Matip's education is one that should make Reds salivate in anticipation of someone that appears made for Liverpool joining a club that appears made for him.
On to the nitty gritty, then.
Let's start with the easy part: 6'5", ladies and gentlemen. One hundred and ninety-five centimeters. The EPL likes 'em big, and Klopp is damn tired of watching us concede from set pieces. Thankfully, he is very good in the air, averaging 3.5 aerial duels won per match, better than any other LFC player and good for 3/4 of his aerial duels (only Lovren has done better percentage-wise, at 80% during the Lovrenaissance).
Lest you think that 6'5" frame means he's a lumbering giant, Matip is fast. I hear we call that having pace, a thing that is useful in the premiser league. See, Vardy, Jamie. As a result, he is a front-foot defender. Howedes usually sits in behind Matip to provide a little more balance, while both Lovren and Sakho also play on the front foot. Given the benefit of playing a high line in a pressing system, Matip's skillset reflects Sacchi's fundamental influence on Klopp's vision of how the game should be played; all of which is to say, Matip's pace is what makes him an ideal plug into our current set-up.
So, pace and height, we're all intrigued, but the best is yet to come: Matip, as product of the revamped German youth set-up (are you taking notes, England?), has technical ability. Robert Huth has his uses, but having a ball-playing center back is a luxury well worth securing, particularly when maintaining a high line and looking to spring a counter attack in very limited space. Ibid.
As one might expect from a fast, ball-playing CB, Matip spent many games as a CDM for Schalke, brining us to his last, most fundamental-to-the-Klopp-system asset: versatility. Do not be surprised if Matip is shuttled into the double pivot at some point as we look to shore up matches in the waning minutes, something sorely needed given last year's throwing away of points in the most cavalier of manners.
Remember that front-footedness we talked about earlier? Well, as the experiment known as Dejan Lovren has well-seared into the brains of Liverpool suporters, that can be a problem. His reading of the game is not Leiva-level, which is to be expected from a 24 year old.
While he is no red-card-waiting-to-happen, he sometimes takes himself out of the play with an ill-advised all-in tackle, which when playing a high line is a problem. His recovery speed allows him too much confidence at times, and sharpening his reading of the game is another reason Klopp should consider keeping Papa Lucas around, particularly since Lovren and Sakho share a tendency to commit too early.
His ability on the ball also comes with its achilles heel, and if he decides to maraud to ill-effect, Liverpool may be left-open to a bow-sighted counterattack.
Matip has inculcated the lessons of his teachers at Knappenschmeide: he is fast, technical, front-footed, and dedicated to his club. His confidence on the ball and front-footedness are his achilles heel, but there are only so many teams that have a Paris capable of taking advantage. One to be excited about.