With Van Dijk and Lovren both firmly ahead of him, can Matip win his starting birth back?
Joel Matip is one of those pesky divisive players. Liverpool have had many. From Jimmy Melia (ask you dads and grandads) to Jordan Henderson and everyone in between, many have donned the famous Red down the years.
Matip is either totally hopeless or a top class defender, instrumental to our plans, it depends on who you ask ultimately. And on what day of the week.
However the answer as it often is, is somewhere in between. The modern trend is to say a player is either crap or great. The inbetween has been forgotten in the maelstrom of social media and 24 hour coverage.
Matip though occupies this middle ground. He is, on his day an excellent defender who you would be comfortable seeing week in week out. Last season though his form was seriously diminished and he was being phased out of the team before injury ruled him out altogether. Now he faces a big few weeks to prove himself and push those ahead of him for his place back.
Ups and downs
It must be remembered that Matip is still only 26 years old. Signed on a free from Shalke, Liverpool was a huge leap up in quality and expectation for the then twenty-four year old. He has largely been a good performer for us on balance.
His ability on the ball is one of the big stregths of his game. Gracefully striding forward, connecting defence to attack with ease, he is more than capable of gaining Liverpool some vital yards from the back.
Unflustered and generally composed in his defensive work, there are few glaring errors that leave you bemused. His reading of dangerous play is more than adequate, however his positional play is sometimes a bit off, see his mistake last season against Newcastle which allowed Joselu to score.
For a man almost two metres in height, Matip is not convincing in the air, in either box. The hope when he signed was that he would be a commanding prescense at the back from set plays. Despite his physical presence though, this hasn’t happened as often as we’d all like.
He is not a shouter or even much of a talker at the back. This is not crucial, but when entering such a shaky back four as he did in 2016, it was hoped we had more of a leader, someone to show and tell. I.E Van Dijk.
Competition and fortune
Van Dijk’s £75 million signing in January was a real seismic shift in the ambitions of Liverpool football club. For the first time in a long time, we didn’t just sign an upgrade, we signed a true leader.
The overnight impact Van Dijk had on the back four was monumental. We looked more assured, composed and organised as the giant Dutchman marshalled and roared at his teammates.
The general consensus was that Lovren would lose out, with Matip operating alongside the new man. After his nightmare against Spurs at Wembley, it looked grim indeed for the Croatian.
However, he has been a player reborn since the new year, his game elevated above what any of us had hoped to see. As Matip’s form floundered he lost his place and eventually his season to injury
Injuries have been a thorn in the side of Matip’s Liverpool career. He appears to be unable go get through a sustained period without a significant layoff. He has already misses 167 days in two years, which also goes someway to explaining his dip in form over the past 12 months.
If he can get a little bit of fortune and respite from injury, then we may yet see Matip rediscover his best form. He is a good defender, a real performer on his day who can step in to the first team with confidence.
With Lovren’s antics at the World Cup this summer, the Croatian is likely to need some rest when he finally finishes his national duties on Sunday. It would be unwise to throw the self proclaimed best defender in the world, back in to first team duties right away.
Gomez and Klavan are also there, plus there is an open window and money in the bank. Klopp though does have a dilemma, Matip is only just back following a threw month lay off. He also will need time to readjust. The squad will need to be primed.
Perhaps easing him back in will be the preferred choice of Klopp. The manager is rumoured to be content with his back four options for the coming Premier League and Champions league campaigns. This bodes well for the likeable Matip. We wait in hope hope that he can return to the form.