If you had told me this time last year that Joel Matip would be offering more to the Liverpool defence than Virgil van Dijk, I would have laughed you out of the building. However, in those 12 months, Joel Matip has gone from could-be-sold-at-any-minute backup player to undroppable first teamer. Whilst Virgil is still head and shoulders above Matip – and the rest of the world – as a defender, currently, Matip is offering more to the Liverpool defence.
Teams are beginning to dig in against the Reds. More and more often, we are seeing teams park 10 men in front of their goalkeeper, praying they can keep out the irresistible Liverpool attack. This means Jürgen Klopp’s men dominate possession more often than not. The two players that find themselves on the ball the most for the Reds are Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk, the pair are turned to to recycle possession and keep the ball moving.
More often than not, this is what Van Dijk does, barring his occasional Andrea Pirlo moment – see Sadio Mane’s goal versus Bayern Munich. However, it is the Dutchman’s Cameroonian partner that has become more useful in possession for Liverpool.
Against Sheffield United we saw Matip at his offensive best. He was always looking to ping a pass forward and into feet. The ex-Schalke man also took to walking the ball up the pitch in his trademark striding fashion, carving up space for teammates around him in the process, breaking the lines himself.
When the Reds are having to face teams that are digging in, Matip is offering more to the defence. Virgil can’t ping long balls over the top of deep lying defences but Joel can carry the ball out and fire a pass into Bobby Firmino’s feet.