Liverpool have started the Premier League campaign 2021/22 in style currently sitting in second position in the table with 15 points. They are the only unbeaten team in the league now. Liverpool’s attack has been invincible for a long time but last season they struggled to get their foot right due to vulnerable defence, with all their senior centre-backs injured.
The Reds have improved a lot in defence since the start of the season with all their centre-backs back in the squad and moving. Virgil van Dijk is obviously the player people have been keeping their eyes on but the man who has been silently doing his job perfectly and is on the path of a revamp is Joel Matip – who we like to call ‘the Jewel’.
Matip was Klopp’s first-choice centre-back when he joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Schalke 04 in 2016. He was one of the main driving forces behind Liverpool’s UCL winning campaign in 2018/19 but injuries kept him sidelined through the next two seasons.
This season Matip looks like he is back at his best and in my opinion has been the best Liverpool defender, better than van Dijk himself.
We look at the stats report of him to analyse his performance further.
Matip has slotted on the right side of defence alongside van Dijk, his preferred side of playing. The above heat map shows that he has played throughout the pitch on the right side. Liverpool like to win balls higher up the pitch with a high defensive line, the red and orange area shows that he has spent most of his time near the centre line from where he has helped to build attacks from the back and also helped in faster transitions.
Matip has carried the ball forward eloquently to the attacking third very often this season and has been the playmaker behind Liverpool’ goals seldom. Mohamed Salah’s goal against Leeds United is the perfect example of the fact when he carried the ball up to the opposition box to set up Trent Alexander-Arnold to drill in a low cross.
One of the best attributes of his playing style is his ball distribution. He is extremely calm and comfortable on the ball trying to find the correct passes all the time. Matip is very hard to dispossess off the ball which makes him a good progressive carrier of the ball. We can see above that he has played most of his passes near the midfield, he has more progressive forward passes then lateral and back passes which shows his mindset of always trying to find a way of creating an attack.
Another highlight of his gameplay is his ability to play long diagonal balls over the top to directly find Liverpool wingers Mane and Salah with precision. It is really threatening for the opponents for sometimes they have no clue how to deal with them.
He has played a total of 438 passes with an accuracy of 89% averaging 73 passes per match. Matip has even attempted to play through balls from the midfield at times with passes having xT of nearly 0.0930.
Matip has engaged in 50 duels till now, successfully winning 64% of them. He has won most of the duels higher up the pitch on the right side which shows he is not afraid to tackle and commit himself. The Cameroonian has won 63% of his tackles and it adds to his confidence.
At 6’5″ high Matip is a dominant presence in the air winning 59% of his aerial duels with equal ease in both the penalty areas and in midfield. He is one of the reasons why Liverpool defend long balls and crosses pretty easily.
The 30-year-old centre-back is equally strong and trustworthy in the penalty area. A calm personality he keeps his composure even under pressure situations he has blocked five shots and has 15 clearances. The block he made of Romelu Lukaku’s side volley against Chelsea inside the box denying a clear goal-scoring chance is the biggest example of that.
Matip is not a reckless tackler of the ball. He has intercepted most of the balls inside his own penalty area without throwing away any silly foul or penalties. He has committed only two fouls in six matches which speaks volumes of how clean his tackles and interceptions are being a centre-back. Joel Matip is yet to get into the referee’s book this season.
Joel Matip ranks in the 79th percentile in the league among defenders in successful defensive duels rate while making great use of his height ranks in the 72nd percentile in successful aerial duels in the league. He has made an average of 11 recoveries per 90 ranking in the 83rd percentile in the league.
All the above-described metrics show how good of a centre-back Joel Matip still is even after so many injury scares throughout his career.
Matip has hardly set a foot wrong this season and his consistency has won over Jurgen Klopp’s trust again to start him over Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate.
He has brought back a sense of stability in Liverpool’s defence and takes a lot of load off Virgil van Dijk. He was by far the best defender on the pitch for Liverpool against Manchester City as well.
So far, Joel Matip for me has been the most improved and technically sound centre-back in the Premier League. As the saying goes “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles” – a fit and running Matip can very well prove it right again in Liverpool’s title challenge this season.