Liverpool might be well known for their ‘high-pressing’ and incredible attacking play.
The trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino are deadly upfront while the Reds have spent big on their defence in recent seasons.
Alisson and Virgil van Dijk helped the Reds to the Champions League crown in June, but one player has turned up the style over the past 12 months.
Joel Matip joined the Reds on a free after Klopp had joined, but he didn’t have a great campaign during his first season.
Partnering him with Van Dijk seems to have unlocked his abilities, and the defender could be one of Liverpool’s best ever free agent signings.
The Cameroon defender got a chance to play last season when Joe Gomez picked up a fracture. The former Schalke centre-back made no mistake when he broke into the team and has barely put a foot wrong over the past 12 months.
The 28-year-old isn’t as pacey as Gomez, but his reading of the game is better than the Englishman’s. Matip and Van Dijk have formed a near-impenetrable partnership, and it comes as no surprise that the pair look great this season too.
The same could be said for Aymeric Laporte of Manchester City.
After initial struggles to life in England, the French defender has now seen himself rise to become a key figure in the heart of Guardiola’s defence.
The departure of captain Vincent Kompany at the end of last season meant Laporte, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi were the club’s recognised centre-halves.
Many expected Otamendi to partner with John Stones but Laporte has become the “ideal” candidate to partner the Englishman at the back.
Laporte was outstanding, a constant and featured in 49 of the treble winners’ 61 games in all competitions last season.
This statistical analysis compares the stats of both defenders so far and sees who has had a more superior improvement over recent times.
Their stats from last season will be used to get a more conclusive analysis. (via WhoScored)
Both players have relatively decent numbers but Joel Matip comes out on top in this aspect.
The Cameroonian made an average of 1.8 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per 90 minutes last season which is significantly higher than that of Laporte at 1.2 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per 90 minutes.
Also, the City man’s average of 2.7 clearances and 0.3 blocks per 90 minutes pales in comparison to that of Matip at 3.5 clearances but roughly the same 0.3 blocks per 90 minutes.
Matip is a more defensive-minded option and his keen eye for a tackle makes him a more reliable candidate at the back, even though he doesn’t look like it.
Joël Matip (14) made nine more clearances than Virgil van Dijk in the #UCLFinal and was the only Liverpool player to create multiple chances.
Perhaps it should have been the other centre-back on this list. ? pic.twitter.com/ByTbCw7pgf
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 2, 2019
Perhaps not a major aspect to bother about, considering their positions – but it’s always great to have a defender that can pop in with one or two goals once in a while.
Also when you play under Guardiola, attack is important – even if you’re a goalkeeper or a good old centre back.
In this regard, Laporte makes up for his defensive shortcomings and easily tops this aspect.
The Frenchman’s 3 goals and 3 assists last season was way better than Matip’s tally who could only score one goal and provide no assists all through the season.
Going into their gameplay, Laporte took an average of 0.7 shots and made 0.4 key passes per game which is by far better than the Liverpool man’s numbers at 0.4 shots and 0.1 key passes per game.
Not a surprise as he is coached by Pep Guardiola. With a goal-hungry squad like City, creativity all over the pitch even down to the goalkeeper is a must and is obviously evident in Laporte’s numbers.
Still building on the narrative earlier mentioned, it’ll be naturally expected that Laporte will do a lot of more passing cause he progresses forward more often – and rightly so he is superior in this aspect yet again.
To that effect, Laporte boasts a remarkable 85.6 average passes and an accuracy of 92.6% per 90 minutes which by far dwarfs that of Matip at 61 average passes and 86.9% accuracy per 90 minutes.
Moving forward, the City man averaged 4.9 long balls per game which was more than double that of the Cameroonian at 2.1 per game.
City and Liverpool are both highly possessive teams but Guardiola’s style of play involves playing out from the back meaning defenders as well even get to see a lot of the ball.
Laporte is clearly a better distributor of the ball and will fit in a very attacking setup – hence the reason he plays for City.
Both relatively tall players but at 6’5″ Joel Matip is the taller (compared to Laporte at 6’3″) and as expected has a better presence in the air.
Joel Matip won an average of 3 aerial duels per game last season which slightly edges out that of Laporte at 2.2 aerial wins per game.
Both players are very much underrated and are perfect at what they do in the setup they are.
The fact that they’re also consistent performers also shows how largely unnoticed their importance may go until they become absent for any reason at all.
While the likes of Van Dijk, Maguire and Vertonghen get called upon as the major top three centre back fore-runners, perhaps more recognition should be given to the duo of Joel Matip and Aymeric Laporte who might even boast better numbers than the aforementioned trio.