Jöel Matip is looking forward to the 2017/18 season and using it as a way to take the next step in his personal development.
Matip was the pick of the bunch in Liverpool’s defence last season.
Combining rock-hard defensive solidity with a classy, composed style when in possession, the big Cameroonian was an instant hit on Merseyside and was at the centre of many of the Reds’ best defensive performances.
“Last season was not the worst one, but I think I can still improve a lot and I will improve a lot,” he said in Hong Kong. “I need time for this. I get help from everybody and I will use this to get better.
“You always need a little bit of time to adapt to a new league. You need some time to know your teammates and understand them without saying something. I’m not 35 so I hope I still can improve.”
Matip cut ties with his club of 16 years, FC Schalke, last summer when he joined the Reds on a free transfer but the 25-year-old insists he has no regrets over that decision.
“The intensity was not really a surprise because I watched a lot of games before I came to the Premier League, ” he explained.
“It’s a lot of fun to play every week against great teams, players and have these unbelievable teammates who I can play with. The Bundesliga is not as physical, but I played with Schalke in Europe so I knew this kind of play. It’s a special art but not every player is very physical in this league, there are different types of strikers.”
While adapting to the league wasn’t a problem in itself, Matip’s fitness issues certainly was.
Matip missed nine Premier League games across the season and was forced to feature off the bench in a further two, making 32 appearances across all competitions.
The Cameroonian’s back and ankle complaints combined with partner Dejan Lovren’s own injury and illness issues meant that Klopp was forced to chop and change his defensive line with even more frequency than Brendan Rodgers changed formation in 2014/15.
The defender is however looking forward to the new season and proving his ability to keep himself fit and constantly improve his game.
“From the first day Dejan came to me, there was a good relationship between us,” Matip added. “We can talk in German and that also helps. It was really easy to get a good relationship with him.
“We have a different way of playing and I think this fits well together. We use the attacking players at the front – they work a lot and win the ball a lot. We have to do our own part and that means as a defender staying a little bit higher.
“If the front six do a different job and the others stay deep then that doesn’t work together. You have to have the same idea of playing football in all the heads of the players. If one player plays for himself, it doesn’t work.
“I’m working on my fitness but I have no problems, no pain. I’m on a good way. I hope that this time I stay fit a bit longer.”
Despite Matip and Lovren’s seemingly solid understanding, the Reds remain in the market for another centre back this summer – more specifically, a very certain Dutch centre back – but the Cameroonian is insistent that he would relish more competition rather than try to hide from it.
“I want to improve for myself, not for other people,” he said. “I will improve, but what the club will do? I don’t know. That’s not my area. I only focus on the things I can change.”
Klopp has recently demanded improved decision making, concentration and reaction time from his back line and Matip believes that the return of skipper Jordan Henderson will be vital in ensuring that happens.
“I think we have a lot of quality,” Matip said. “Maybe there are a few things that I can change or my teammates can change and improve. But I’m not in doubt about our quality.
“We work really hard together to not concede as many goals as last year. Every defender doesn’t want to concede that many.
“The captain is back and as the No 6 he is a help for every defender. He owns the No 6 and that’s a big No 6. He can help the defenders and control the game. I hope he stays fit.”
Finally, the defender addressed the Reds’ upcoming Champions League play-off fixtures, calling for his teammates to give it all to ensure they overcome the final hurdle and solidify their place among Europe’s elite.
“I’m looking forward to this,” he said.
“I’m not in doubt about the quality so we can play a good season in the Champions League . But first we have to qualify for this and there will be two hard games. We will do everything to qualify. That’s the first thing we have to think about.
“Pressure belongs to football and to a great club like Liverpool. We have work with the situation and do our best.”