Opinion

Why Joel Matip is a Liverpool signing with a difference

Joel Matip is one of the signings of the summer after slotting seamlessly into the Liverpool defence

Joel Matip is a Liverpool signing with a difference.

The Cameroon international moved to the 18-time English champions from Schalke 04 in the summer transfer window after Liverpool agreed a deal in principle with the centre-half back in February.

Matip’s transition to the Premier League from the Bundesliga has been effortless – thus far. In fact, the defender’s calming presence is bringing out the best in error-prone Dejan Lovren.

Why is Matip different? Well, he is a shrewd Liverpool signing. That’s a phrase that hasn’t been uttered too many times – if at all – since Fenway Sports Group took over the Merseyside club in “an epic swindle” from the reviled George Gillette and Tom Hicks in 2010.

While Brendan Rodgers received praise for showing the faith and foresight to sign Philippe Coutinho in an £8.5m deal from Inter Milan in January 2013, the Northern Irishman had quite a poor transfer record at Anfield.

Don’t forget that Luis Suarez was signed under his predecessor Kenny Dalglish. Even then, the Uruguay international cost Liverpool £22.75m after the striker moved to Anfield from another great European club – Ajax. The controversial South American was sold to Barcelona in a reported £65m deal three-and-a-half years later.

Other than Coutinho and Suarez, there haven’t been too many transfer hits.

Daniel Sturridge is worth more than the £12m that Liverpool paid Chelsea in 2013 but his injury problems have brought his Anfield career to a stuttering stop. Jordan Henderson has been a reasonable success but the Reds captain moved in a £20m switch from Sunderland.

That brings us back to Matip.

While it is still very early into the centre-half’s career on Merseyside, the Cameroon international hasn’t put a foot wrong in Jurgen Klopp’s defence.

Even coming up against some of the Premier League’s most-prolific strikers, such as Diego Costa, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, Matip has proven unflappable.

Having watched his third Premier League appearance at Stamford Bridge in September, the manner in which he tamed Costa with a mature professionalism but underlying grit prompted welcome memories of Sami Hyypia at his pomp.

Matip does look like an awkward player. Standing at 6ft 5ins, he is a towering centre-half but his frame is quite slim. On first view, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d make a cumbersome and uncoordinated football player.

However, Matip has good technique, coupled with pace and power. The summer signing has added an extra dimension to Klopp’s side with his willingness to bring the ball out of defence and venture into the opposition’s half.

The African did just that against Manchester United – and his foray forward led to Emre Can’s second-half chance which required a world-class save from David De Gea.

There is, of course, room for improvement.

Liverpool’s Achilles heel is their defending from set-pieces. The Merseyside club have conceded 17 times from set-pieces since Klopp took over in October 2015.

Klopp’s squad is quite small, so there will be an onus on Matip to help improve that clear weakness. If Liverpool want to win the Premier League, this is an area that requires improvement.

Earlier this month, former Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves was adamant that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the [best value] signing of the summer. Given his decline in recent weeks, there is a strong case to give that title to Matip.

Hopefully the Cameroon defender is the first of a number of shrewd purchases under Klopp.

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