During a season of such unprecedented success for Liverpool last time out, one of the few sour talking points from an otherwise perfect campaign was the fact that Joel Matip struggled to play a role in the club’s 19th title success.
Matip, 29, was one of the key driving forces behind Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in 2019 and his sustained brilliance in the team saw him emerge as the obvious pick to partner Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the defence.
Having earnt himself cult hero status among the fan base, it felt somewhat of an injustice that such a key player under Jurgen Klopp could become such an absent figure in the team.
Desperately unlucky Joel Matip
Matip began the 2019/20 season as Klopp’s preferred choice at centre-back having started six of the club’s first seven fixtures. The Cameroonian defender was in such inspiring form for Liverpool that Matip took home the PFA Premier League Player of the Month award for September.
Having fought so hard to solidify himself as a first-team regular, satisfaction quickly turned to heartbreak after his season was effectively over by October following what initially seemed like a minor knee injury turned out to be a setback that would see Matip out of action for the next three months.
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From then, Matip was a peripheral figure and following his withdrawal against Manchester United at Old Trafford, the Liverpool defender would go on to make just two further appearances all season.
In-effect it meant Matip was only Liverpool’s 17th-most-used player throughout the course of the club’s PL-winning campaign.
However, it should be remembered that the last time both Matip and Joe Gomez were available for selection it was the former who Klopp opted to start after the first game of the restart against Everton in June.
In what felt like a surprise selection at the time, Matip’s injury-woes came to fore again after the player limped off at the 73rd minute following a toe problem which all-but ended his participation for the remainder of the season.
It hasn’t really been explored since, but it was quite telling that Klopp chose to opt with Matip instead of Gomez when both were fit and available. There could even be a case that the boss could be planning to start Matip against Leeds at the weekend following on from the former Schalke star’s impressive display against Blackpool last week.
Had the injuries not occurred, there is every possibility that it would be Matip who we would be lauding as the mainstay defender in Klopp’s team as opposed to Gomez.
It shouldn’t be overlooked either that at 29, Matip is still not that old when you consider his position. Defenders often take longer to mature meaning that there is every chance that Matip can regain his spot back in the team.
Also, Gomez has been more error-prone than usual since Project Restart and his performances with England also didn’t help his case after the Liverpool man gave away a sloppy penalty during the 1-0 victory against Iceland last weekend.
It wasn’t too long ago either that the 23-year-old was pulled off at half-time following a nightmare performance against Manchester City. Gomez has proven he has the credentials to become a world-class defender in the future but we sometimes forget just how young the player is and that there are still so many lessons ahead.
Judging by the fixture congestion and the more urgent need for regular rotation, there is every likelihood that opportunities in the starting XI will become more apparent for Matip who could play a more significant role this season than first expected.
If Matip is to replicate the same run of form he displayed on a weekly basis during the back end of the 2018/19 season then there is every possibility that Klopp may have to reconsider his best central defensive pairing.
In a team as stacked in world-class options at Liverpool, it shouldn’t be surprising that even after recent Premier League and Champions League successes that starting spots in the team are still open for discussion.
After-all a little bit of healthy competition can only be a good thing for a team that is aspiring to become only the second team in 11 years to successfully retain their Premier League crown.
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