Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk could find his position under threat after a shaky performance against Atletico Madrid in midweek, while Joel Matip has excelled this season
With Virgil van Dijk looking shaky in Madrid, Joel Matip once again proved he is the main man at the heart of Liverpool’s defence right now.
So often in the Dutchman’s shadow, Matip has emerged as a key figure in a Jurgen Klopp side that extended their unbeaten run to a mightily impressive 21 games on Tuesday night, following a 3-2 Champions League triumph over Atletico.
With the returning Joe Gomez and £36million summer signing Ibrahima Konate waiting in the wings, it appears van Dijk could now find himself as the Liverpool centre back whose position is under threat.
After all, it was the Dutch captain who was caught out on more than one occasion in Madrid, with Antoine Griezmann evading him several times, including to clinical effect for Atleti’s second.
Prior to the match, Van Dijk even admitted there is room for improvement after recently returning from a nine-month layoff following the nasty ACL injury he sustained last year.
However, for Matip, it’s been a different story.
The Cameroonian international, who was signed on a bargain free transfer from German club Schalke back in the summer of 2016, has barely put a foot wrong all season, rarely receiving the credit he deserves as a composed and commanding presence at the back for Liverpool.
Having played in all but one of their Premier League games so far this season, Matip has proven himself to be integral in Liverpool’s impressive run which has drawn parallels to the Reds’ title winning surge in 2019.
With Manchester United up next on Sunday, the assured centre back will be full of confidence having already proven his worth in big games this season.
Matip made four interceptions, three tackles, two blocks and one clearance during Liverpool’s thrilling 2-2 draw with City earlier this month and was unlucky to see Kevin De Bruyne’s equaliser cruelly deflect off him on its way in.
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If Liverpool can keep Matip fit while they nurture van Dijk back to full health, they have a real chance of reclaiming the Premier League crown that City pinched back off them last campaign.
While so often going under the radar, it was refreshing to see the 30-year-old picked out for praise by former Red Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports, who acknowledged the importance of Matip to Klopp’s side, labelling him as better than his Dutch centre back partner this season.
“I actually think Matip has possibly been one of Liverpool’s best players, not the best as that has been Salah,” stated Carragher while justifying Matip’s selection in his combined United and Liverpool XI on Monday Night Football.
“He’s actually been better than Virgil van Dijk this season.
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“He’s a player that goes under the radar because he’s not a huge name. He came in on a free transfer, he’s been there a long time under Jurgen Klopp, he’s had his injury problems but every time he plays, he’s top class. He really is.
“That partnership with Virgil van Dijk at the minute is really good.
“He’s always associated with not playing for Liverpool as it is always Gomez and van Dijk but as I said, he’s played in so many big games. This season he has almost been an ever present. He’s been fantastic.”
Matip will no doubt be relishing the prospect of facing up to Cristiano Ronaldo and co when old rivals United and Liverpool come to blows on Sunday.
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