Joel Matip is “not sure” he is the fittest he can be yet, but he is feeling “confident” in his body as Liverpool continue to manage his minutes on the pitch.
It has already been a landmark campaign for Matip after two seasons hampered by injury, having played more minutes this term than in both 2019/20 and 2020/21.
That this comes on the back of another long-term layoff, missing the final four months of last season with an ankle injury, is a welcome development for an elite centre-back.
Jurgen Klopp has spoken about the club’s efforts to manage Matip’s fitness as a first-choice starter, and though available throughout, his longest run of consecutive starts this campaign currently stands at five.
Matip was an unused substitute in the 2-1 win at AC Milan in midweek, with Nat Phillips and Ibrahima Konate starting, but can return to the side for Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa “confident” in his fitness.
“I’m not sure if I’m at my fittest level, but I feel good, I’m confident, and I hope that I stay fit,” he told Sky Sports.
“You never have this kind of influence, unfortunately, but I’m happy to be a part and that I can play, and to help the team and to do the things you always want to do.
“Playing football in the stadium, with the people around, these are the things you always want to do as a kid, and I’m really happy that I have the opportunity to do it.”
Remarkably, Matip is now the fifth longest-serving player in Liverpool’s first team, behind only Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Joe Gomez.
He arrived with a burgeoning reputation after 16 years with Schalke, but has undoubtedly gone onto another level under the management of Klopp.
“[He is] a big influence, he and all my team-mates, because of the quality in training and the quality of my team-mates,” Matip continued.
“If I play with them, they’re lifting each other up, you can learn a lot.
“And you can improve because you have to face these kinds of players in training, you can play with these kinds of players.
“So it will always help you to improve yourself, to get you to your limit and to get to your best.”
On Van Dijk, he added: “With the way he’s playing, he has a big impact on the whole squad. He helps, especially, the man next to him.”