While some new signings take can a while to bed in at a club of Liverpool’s stature, Joel Matip has been a revelation in his first unbeaten months at Anfield.
It has been a long time since a Liverpool centre-back has filled the majority of the fanbase with such universal confidence.
Since those heady days of Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher in their prime, the Reds have too often had divisive, inconsistent figures marshalling the back line.
Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho have all split opinion during their respective times at the club, and Dejan Lovren is still struggling to convince the masses.
Kolo Toure was past his best when he joined Liverpool, despite some stellar performances here and there, while the likes of Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Sebastian Coates and Steven Caulker were never good enough.
Matip has strutted his way into Merseyside and looked like he belongs there from minute one, however, following his move from Schalke 04 in the summer.
He couldn’t have been much more impressive.
It was clear upon first watch during pre-season that Liverpool had acquired a centre-back full of elegance, aerial dominance and leadership.
Judging a player in friendlies is always a dangerous game, though—Coates could look world class in pre-season—and it was clear that Matip would only really be assessed once he’d made his competitive debut.
That came in a 5-0 thrashing of Burton Albion in the League Cup second round, and although the Cameroonian was rarely tested against lesser opponents, he was faultless from start to finish.
A far bigger test of his credentials came in the 1-1 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur in late August, with the 25-year-old shining against one of the Premier League‘s best sides.
“Strong, powerful, aerially dominant and comfortable stepping out of defence and into the Spurs half, Matip enjoyed a positive league debut,” wrote This is Anfield’s Jack Lusby, in his post-match player ratings.
From that point on, Matip has only gone from strength to strength, cementing his reputation as Liverpool’s premier centre-back, and a key man for the foreseeable future.
Barring one sloppy piece of defending for Diega Costa’s goal in the 2-1 victory over Chelsea, in which he went to ground far too easily, he has been immense.
The former Schalke man has won 57 percent of his duels, enjoyed a passing accuracy of 87 percent and, most importantly, not made a single key error to date.
He has averaged just 0.8 fouls per game, further highlighting his calming presence, while his average of 5.6 clearances per game shows he is also not afraid to display a more gritty playing style.
The 6’5″ Matip is also seen as a goal threat at the other end of the pitch, having scored 23 times for Schalke, and his bullet header against Crystal Palace was hopefully a sign of things to come.
He had missed some big chances up until that point, but the fact he was getting himself into those positions suggests the Reds have someone who can chip in with a decent tally from set-pieces.
The towering centre-back has now made 11 appearances for Liverpool, and they are undefeated ever since he came into the team.
It can always be a foolish move going overboard about a player this early into his Reds career, but Matip really does look to be one of Liverpool’s best free signings ever.
Over the years, the Reds have pulled off some wonderful freebies.
The signing of 35-year-old Gary McAllister baffled many when he joined from Coventry City in the summer of 2000, but he would go on to become a genuine Reds legend during his short time at the club.
The Scot won the cup treble under Gerard Houllier in 2000/01, and his dramatic late winner at Goodison Park will forever go down as one of the great Merseyside derby moments.
Markus Babbel was another who proved to be a fabulous free signing, becoming Liverpool’s best right-back for many years, before being cruelly struck down with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The same applies to Fabio Aurelio, who had it not been for awful luck with injuries, would be even more revered than he currently is.
Jari Litmanen and Maxi Rodriguez may have been ageing when they joined, but both came in and proved to be cult heroes, due mainly to their supreme talent.
James Milner is the most recent success story when it comes to free signings, with the 30-year-old bringing consistency, versatility and much-needed experience to a young Liverpool side.
There have been some failures too, but all in all, the Reds have been masters at acquiring top players on a free.
Only Positives So Far
Jurgen Klopp has been excellent in the transfer market since taking charge, and Matip was a player he always admired during his time at Borussia Dortmund.
It is hard to pick faults in the centre-back’s game from what we have seen so far—whisper it quietly, but Liverpool have may finally found the solution at the heart of their defence.
Lovren remains a slight issue, but his defensive partner could help bring the best out of him if they enjoy a long run in the side together.
At 25, Matip is still not at his peak—a centre-back’s best years generally come between the ages of 27 and 32—but he has already established himself as a key player for Liverpool.
To still be undefeated over two months since his debut speaks volumes, and for the Reds to bring him in on a free makes it even sweeter.
While Man United, Man City and Chelsea spent their summer paying obscene amounts of money on Eric Bailly, John Stones and David Luiz respectively, Liverpool went and got someone superior to all three for nothing.