LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 14, 2019: Liverpool's Joel Matip during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The ongoing challenge facing Joel Matip as body fails ability in champions season

Joel Matip started the season as Virgil van Dijk‘s right-hand man but ended it third in the pecking order after being besieged by injury setbacks.

The end of the 2018/19 season was one to remember for Matip as he became first choice in the heart of defence, operating at a level he had failed to consistently show in the years previous.

Reliable and key to securing the European Cup, 2019/20 was set up for the 28-year-old to make greater strides in solidifying his place in the side.

And having ousted Joe Gomez from the starting lineup, Matip earned the right to keep hold of his spot in a position Jurgen Klopp doesn’t look to switch up too often, unless forced or through necessary rotation.

This early promise made way for untimely setbacks, however, which saw his standing in the side change.

Joel Matip, 2019/20

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 22, 2019: Chelsea's Tammy Abraham (L) and Liverpool's Joel Matip during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 11 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 2
Unused sub: 10
Goals: 2
Assists: 0

Overall season rating: 7.5


Form continues into new season

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 24, 2019: Liverpool's Joel Matip celebrates scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With a European Cup under his belt and a strong finish to the previous season, Matip was deservedly given the right to retain his place, one which was his to lose and with the onus put on Gomez to add competition for places and fight for his spot.

At 28, Matip is in prime years of his career and is an underrated presence in the back line alongside the world’s best.

He had grown in stature and confidence and headed into the new campaign with momentum on his side, which he used in the Community Shield with a headed finish to force extra-time and ultimately penalties.

Surprisingly, he was overlooked on opening day against Norwich but would return next time out in his first of six successive league starts, which was coupled with playing the full 120 minutes in the UEFA Super Cup and the opening Champions League clash at Napoli.

A confident operator on the ball, Liverpool’s No. 32 is unassuming as they come but can still pack a punch when required and offer a threat at the other end of the field.

His header against Arsenal at Anfield being case in point: powering home the opener into the top corner for his fifth goal for the Reds, and his joy when celebrating was infectious.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 19, 2019: Liverpool's Joel Matip (L) and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Rarely rattled, Matip provided another calming presence at the back during a time spent without Alisson, which lasted eight Premier League matchdays.

It was around that time, however, in mid-October, when Matip’s troubles first started, with a knock to the knee sustained in the narrow 1-0 at Sheffield United set to prove more troublesome than many initially expected.

But before the longevity of the issue made itself known, Matip put pen to paper on a new long-term deal, one which was a no-brainer for Klopp having seen him up close for over three years.

“Joel has been operating as a world-class centre-half throughout this year and long may it continue,” Klopp said at the time, as the centre-back committed up to 2024.

“I haven’t seen many in his position performing with the consistency and quality he has been.”


Injury unable to overthrow Gomez

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's substitute Joel Matip during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Unfortunately, Liverpool would not witness the quality he possessed too many more times as 2019/20 progressed, as “a little thing” which many had hoped would only require rest would see him miss just under three months of football.

Matip had been given an outing at Man United two weeks post the knock in Sheffield, but on first look appeared out of sorts and for lack of a better word, stiff.

It would be the last we saw the 28-year-old until well into the New Year, and with the troublesome knee coming as the Reds headed into one of the most congested periods of the season, it ensured he missed a total of 20 games.

It was the next in a line of a number of injuries which has disrupted him season on season and with Dejan Lovren succumbing at a similar time, Klopp’s options at the back took a significant hit.

This was so much so that Nat Phillips was called back from his loan spell at Stuttgart just to act as cover in the FA Cup win over Everton at the start of January.

Liverpool’s Joel Matip went off injured (PA)

His return would come in that very same competition, however, against Shrewsbury in a performance which made it known he had been out for a considerable length of time, with his positioning, anticipation and disposal efficiency all sub-par.

It was his first of only two starts for the remainder of the season, as a place on the bench led to just one minute of action against West Ham before football went into lockdown.

The break was one which many thought would prove beneficial and he was given a chance on the restart to stake a claim for a consistent place in XI to end the season, but it would last just 73 minutes as an injury to his big toe would rule him out for the final eight games.


Next season and Matip’s future role

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 17, 2020: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk during a training session at Melwood Training Ground ahead of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

There’s no doubting the quality Matip possesses and can inject into this Liverpool side – the ever-present concern, however, is his injury record and how often he can be relied upon.

Last season proved he has all the tools to push for a starting berth or provide rotational cover without a noticeable drop in quality, the task now is for him to be available more often than he is not.

With Dejan Lovren now having left the club, it leaves Liverpool with just three senior options and two up-and-comers in the form of Sepp van den Berg and Ki-Jana Hoever.

Many would expect the Reds to bolster their options ahead of their bid to retain the title, with Matip’s injury record one which cannot be covered for by only Van Dijk and Gomez.

And a short turnaround will place more onus on making sure his body is prepared for the new campaign and he will be given his chance to play a key role at the back.

The challenge for him is now to be able to grasp it on a consistent basis.

Best Moment: Thumping header against Arsenal with his celebration akin to anyone who has ever dreamed of putting on the shirt and scoring at the Kop end.

Worst Moment: The display at Shrewsbury, one which came as a result of his long-term injury.

Role next season: Key senior option at the back, should he remain fit.