Ethan Golding reviews Jöel Matip’s season and argues his case for remaining at Liverpool for another season as cover for Virgil van Dijk
When Jöel Matip was initially announced as a signing in January of 2016, he was regarded as one of the best young centre-backs in Europe, having formed a formidable partnership with Benedikt Höwedes at the heart of Schalke’s defence.
Today, however, there are more and more question marks surrounding the defender.
Matip has been constantly plagued by minor injuries during his time at Liverpool, limiting opportunities for him to benefit from consistent and sustained runs in the starting XI.
At times, his ungainly appearance gives the impression that there is always a mistake just around the corner, coupled with a penchant for being overly casual and it’s easy to see why many fans have begun to call for Dejan (the man for the big occasions) Lovren to partner Virgil van Dijk next season.
While I would be inclined to agree with this opinion currently, Matip’s season was not as disappointing as one would assume. He was involved in 4 defeats this season, compared to Lovren’s 5 and he picked up 3 fewer yellow cards than Lovren having played fewer games.
He was, however, injured a for a total of 19 games.
So at least until another centre back of Virgil van Dijk’s quality is signed to partner the big Dutchman, Lovren appears to be the fan’s choice. However, it is still not clear if Klopp definitely prefers the Croatian to his Cameroonian teammate.
Until Matip’s injury on April 7, he had been van Dijk’s partner for 11 of 12 games sandwiched between two injury spells (W9 D1 L1). Although injuries have held back Matip’s progress over the past 2 years, I would personally maintain that he still has a higher ceiling than Dejan Lovren.
Despite playing just four games fewer in the Premier League this season, Matip has still managed to stack up good numbers with 1.4 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, 3.8 clearances, 0.5 dribbles and 0.6 blocks per game. Besting his two main centre-back partners in all of these categories bar clearances (Lovren 4.9, Van Dijk 5.6).
While it is clear that Matip’s Liverpool career has not been an outright success as we all had hoped, and he has not proven himself to be the undisputed top quality centre-half which he had been billed as when we had initially signed him, there is undeniable quality at Matip’s disposal.
Calls for him to be sold are, in my opinion, naive. Ideally, Matip would be the first choice cover for van Dijk and whoever is hopefully brought in to partner the Dutchman.
With Klavan’s role as the elder statesman arguably no longer needed, and Joe Gomez’s long-term future in the centre of the defence, allowing Matip to leave would be a mistake, especially on the basis of a season where, in spite of recurrent injuries and the bedding in of a centre-back who was always going to take one of two places in the starting XI, he has still managed to rack up sufficient or quality stats.
Much like Sadio Mané, Matip’s season hasn’t met the expectations of supporters, despite the evidence for consistently good performances.
The reality is that with the introduction of two world-class players in each of these positions, both have simply been overshadowed. Liverpool’s squad and future signings have a much higher standard to live up to; a standard that, I for one, believe Matip is more than capable of reaching.