While Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League champions’ direct focus will be on dismantling their rivals once again in England’s flight ahead of the club’s upcoming title defence, there is set to be an intriguing battle within the camp regarding a certain position in the team.
Following on from Dejan Lovren’s £10.9 million departure to Zenit St Petersburg, Klopp in effect, has been left with just three defensive options at centre-back.
One of those options, of course, is the undisputed Virgil van Dijk, who was everpresent for every minute during Liverpool’s procession to the title last season.
A Liverpool elite
The best defender currently on the globe has firmly ensured himself as a mainstay in Klopp’s side and has become the embodiment for consistency in a team that has clocked up an eye-watering 196 points over the previous two seasons.
Van Dijk, 29, played 50 times last season and missed just one match through illness. Despite all his obvious qualities that set him apart from any another defender in world football, the Dutchman’s best asset for Klopp has been the player’s durability with Van Dijk still to miss a Premier League game in over two years.
With Van Dijk’s position in the team totally undisputed and Liverpool currently boasting the two best full-backs in Europe, this leaves an intriguing battle for the final spot in Klopp’s defensive quartet.
It has set up some healthy competition as well as a friendly rivalry for Klopp’s remaining senior options in central defence Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.
Gomez, 23, currently holds the upper hand off the back of last season’s outstanding showing in which the Englishman clocked up 35 matches in competitions – a career-best.
Matip meanwhile, was initially deemed as the first choice option to partner Van Dijk at the beginning of last season, however, a number of injury setbacks limited the Cameroonian defender to just nine league appearances last term and effectively opened the door for Gomez to showcase his brilliance throughout a sustained period.
Since his arrival in 2015, Gomez – who joined for a bargain £3.5 million [BBC] – has made no secret that his ultimate goal was to make the grade, long-term for the club and his performances post Matip’s removal from the team via injury have seen the England international entrusted to shine alongside Van Dijk on a weekly basis.
Matip, though, has still offered Klopp some food for thought after returning to the first team for the first since June and finally returning to senior training.
Since his first major setback back in October 2019, Matip has been restricted to just two matches in the Premier League which is desperately unfortunate for a player who was emulating the same world-class standards as Van Dijk en route to Liverpool’s sixth Champions League success last year.
A substitute appearance against West Ham represented his only involvement last season barring a start against Everton at Goodison Park where Matip sustained a foot injury which ended his season on game one of ‘Project Restart’ for Liverpool.
Ultimatley, it has been the warranted concerns regarding the player’s fitness and durability that have questioned Matip’s long-term involvement and raise a legitimate call as to why another option in the market hasn’t been pursued.
Who currently has the edge?
If fit, there is a call that Matip should have the edge over Gomez. The 29-year-old defender is less error-prone and injury aside hasn’t put a foot wrong in the team since Klopp handed the former Schalke star a consistent run in the team during the back-end of the 2018/19 campaign.
Ahead of Liverpool’s opening match of the season against Leeds in just five days time, the defensive conundrum represents Klopp’s only real example of a selection dilemma as a fit-again Matip, as showcased on Saturday, is an option that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Matip was a class act from start-to-finish during Liverpool’s final pre-season match of the season against Blackpool on Saturday whereas Gomez demonstrated the understandable flaws in a player of his age’s game after conceding a penalty late-on during international duty with England.
While Gomez will most likely get the nod in the early stages of the season the real question that will linger among Klopp’s squad is whether Matip’s ability to remain fit could have a potential detriment to Gomez’s prospects in the starting XI.
In a side as finely tuned and settled as Klopp’s English champions, aside from the usual midfield rotation, Liverpool’s centre-back partnership could become one of the highly-discussed topics as the season progresses.
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