Jurgen Klopp confirmed that Joel Matip is unavailable for Liverpool’s Champions League clash against Ajax tonight although ‘there is a good chance’ he could feature during the weekend clash with Sheffield United.
Matip, 29, has not travelled with the first-team to Amsterdam for the Group D opener after he underwent a muscle scan after the 2-2 draw with Everton at Goodison Park.
There was no lasting damage detected in the leg muscle although Klopp isn’t prepared to risk the central defender following the ACL injury to Virgil van Dijk which has left Liverpool with just two senior central defensive options in the form of Matip and Joe Gomez.
It means Fabinho is poised to return to the heart of defence alongside Gomez as Matip looks to get ahead of fitness in time to return to Premier League action at the weekend.
Matip started and played the full 90 minutes for the first time in 12 months as Klopp looks to carefully manage a player who has clocked up just four league appearances since October 2019.
“We have a lot of players here but some not and Joel is one of the players we have not here,” said Klopp at his pre-match press conference.
“So, it was always clear after the history he had that it’s not likely he will start again after the 90 minutes at Everton. Now we left him at home but there’s a good chance that he could be involved at the weekend again.”
When questioned in regards to the condition of the remainder of his squad – in addition to the knee injury that has sidelined Van Dijk – the manager added: “Thiago is not here, everybody knows that because you watch us travelling. I don’t know how long that will take; how I said, two players suffering from the weekend – Thiago and Virgil. And Joel, but for different reasons.
“But I like the team we can line up, to be honest. I might be the only one! But I like it and I think we should give it a try.”
What RTK has to say
The rest of the 2020/21 season is certain to be an interesting period in the career of Matip assuming he can remain injury-free which is a big ask for the Cameroonian international.
Over the last four years, he has played increasingly less football for Liverpool, due to a combination of fitness setbacks coupled the acquisition of Van Dijk, who was guaranteed to take one of the two centre-back berths prior to his recent injury.
According to Liverpool.com, Matip only managed to clock up 2,456 Premier League minutes in his debut campaign in England, then 1,995 the following season, 1,535 in 2018/19 and then just 704 last season.
This would be made easier if Matip wasn’t such an integral figure when he is actually eligible to feature. His aerial dominance coupled with his strikingly exceptional ability on the ball makes him a perfect Klopp player.
He’s more than a reliable performer, the frustration from supporters stems from an inability to remain fit or injury-free. This isn’t a criticism more of an unfortunate realist as Matip is the only other defender Liverpool have who comes closer than anyone to replacing Van Dijk’s imperious ability in the air too.
Another ball in Matip’s corner is that opposition teams aren’t certain as who to target when partnered with Van Dijk as both are equally dominant in the air.
One thing is for sure, however, if Liverpool are to remain on course for the title this season, Matip will need to be at his very best when he’s available. It’s his fitness rather than his nous for defending which will be a major determining factor as to how well the team are able to cope without the irreplaceable Van Dijk.