Joel Matip failed to kick on in 2017/18, and doubts now surround his long-term prospects as a regular starter in Liverpool’s defensive line.
Matip’s maiden season at Anfield was a largely positive one, following his switch from Schalke on a free transfer in July 2016.
The Cameroonian made an excellent start to life as a Red, convincing supporters that they had finally found their ideal centre-back following years of ineptitude in that area.
It ended up being a disrupted campaign because of injuries, however, and Matip only made 32 appearances in total from a possible 47 matches.
With no new centre-back signed last summer—a move for Virgil van Dijk was delayed until January—the 26-year-old was pencilled in as a definite starter, but things have followed a similar pattern this time around.
If anything, Matip’s stock has now fallen.
Joel Matip, 2017/18
Started: 31 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 4
Unused sub: 1
Average TIA Player Rating: 6.04 (Rank: 19th)
Unconvincing & Inconsistent
Look at Matip as a physical specimen and he has everything in his locker to be a top-class defender. He possesses elegance on the ball, a towering presence and a cool head.
It seems incapable of all coming together regularly, though, which separates him from being an excellent centre-back and an average one.
Too often, he cuts a timid figure who shrinks when the going gets tough, and for all Dejan Lovren‘s faults, he has shown up his team-mate when it comes to heart and influence.
Another bad day at the office wasn’t far away, in the 5-0 defeat at Man City. It was an admittedly tough afternoon, playing with 10 men for much of the game, but he was run ragged.
Liverpool’s defensive problems were highlighted consistently during the autumn, and Matip was a constant in the back line in that period, which spoke volumes.
A few solid showings were ruined by wretched performances at Newcastle and Tottenham, with his timid style and lack of fight alarming.
Matip suddenly looked a far cry from the dominant figure who had shone so brightly in the early stages of 2016/17, and Van Dijk’s arrival made it a straight fight between him and Lovren to be the Dutchman’s centre-back partner.
It was Lovren who looked the more suitable companion—not necessarily because he is better, but due to his all-action style complementing Van Dijk more.
It has undoubtedly been a below-par season on the whole, and fitness has been a real issue.
Not only can Matip be a deeply frustrating player to watch, given the potential he has, he is also injury prone.
In fairness, there were few fitness concerns during the first three months of the season, and he started 18 of Liverpool’s first 21 matches in all competitions.
A thigh problem ruled out Matip out for much of November and December, though, and his campaign never properly got back on track from that point onwards.
He may have enjoyed a sizeable chunk of playing time at the beginning of 2018, but he never looked fully fit or at ease with his game.
There is a feeling that these injuries will keep happening to Matip, with good and bad performances thrown in when he is fit, which is no help to anybody.
Improvements & Future Role
Liverpool need an upgrade at centre-back this summer.
Both Matip and Lovren have certain qualities that mean they are effective on their day, but a lack of consistency and fitness is evident.
Perhaps Matip is being painted in too unfair a light here, with the former Schalke man far from a bad player, but unconvincing is the best word to summarise his Reds career.
There is certainly no need to consider selling him—he can still be a more-than-adequate squad player who chips in when required—but nor can he be relied upon every week.
We hoped that by this point he would be deserved fixture in the team, perhaps building a great understanding with Van Dijk, but it feels a long way off currently.
Best Moment: An excellent performance in the 4-3 win over Man City.
Role next season: Squad player.