Jurgen Klopp won't be surprised as Liverpool 'new Ronaldinho' keeps £36m signing waiting

By Ian Doyle

It was easy to overlook during an eventful and on occasion traumatic afternoon for Liverpool.

But the 78th minute of their 3-0 victory at Leeds United on Sunday showcased why £36millon signing Ibrahima Konate is still waiting for his first appearance for the Reds.

And it's all down to the outstanding Joel Matip.

Matip, accepting a pass from Virgil van Dijk some 20 yards inside his own half, spotted a space into which he strode purposefully before playing inside to Sadio Mane and continuing to the edge of the area, subsequently exasperated when the return pass wasn't forthcoming.

The defender had retreated mere yards before the ball was back at his feet via Trent Alexander-Arnold, Matip then instantly turning into space 25 yards from goal and playing a delicate pass around the corner to Diogo Jota before trotting back to his regular rearguard position.

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That attacking interlude was sufficient for social media to swiftly portray Matip as the new Ronaldinho, a number 10 masquerading as a centre-back. No Context Joel Matip, the parody Twitter account that celebrates the unique character of the defender, was similarly enthused.

Okay, Leeds were down to 10 men at this point with Liverpool cleverly making the most of their numerical advantage by passing the opposition into submission.

But it was an obvious sign of the confidence coursing through the veins of the Cameroonian. No Liverpool player attempted more passes against Leeds, and none had greater accuracy.

Matip had already embarked on one fruitful forward foray that afternoon, integral in the opening goal when bringing the ball out of defence and inviting Alexander-Arnold to cross for Mohamed Salah to score.

Such attacking leanings, though, are not the reason the 30-year-old is again ensconced in the heart of Liverpool's defence as arguably their best centre-back at present, imperious in helping the Reds keep three clean sheets in their opening four Premier League games.

Sure, there was a first-half wobble up against Romelu Lukaku last month. But come full-time, Matip had subdued the Chelsea striker.

And that game underlined an issue with which Matip - and, indeed, whoever partners Virgil van Dijk - has long had to contend. With teams intentionally looking to bypass the Dutchman, it often sees his fellow centre-back given a particularly stern examination.

Matip hasn't so much coped as positively thrived on the extra responsibility.

If a greater previous understanding with Van Dijk saw him start the season, outstanding subsequent form has kept him there.

The task now for Liverpool is keeping Matip out of the treatment room. While his quality has never been in doubt, the same cannot be said for Matip's durability having started just 21 games in the two seasons following the Champions League final win over Tottenham Hotspur in 2019.

The ankle problem that curtailed his campaign last January - Matip joining Van Dijk and Joe Gomez on the sidelines - was the prompt for Liverpool to bring in two short-term centre-back fixes in Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies. It also, in truth, cost them any meaningful progress in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Matip's return to fitness in the summer was largely overlooked given the similar comebacks of both Van Dijk and Gomez, but, despite his lanky frame, he has grown accustomed to operating under the radar since arriving on a free transfer from Schalke more than five years ago.

There is, though, one person fully appreciative of Matip's contribution.

“I like talking about Virgil but I don’t like when we talk about last season (that it’s about) ‘Virgil van Dijk didn’t play’," said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp last month.

“Just to mention again, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip didn’t play as well which didn’t make the situation easier and people tend to forget how good they are.”

A hectic spell of seven games in 22 days - the second of which comes in the Champions League group opener at home to AC Milan on Wednesday - means fit-again Gomez and new signing Konate will soon have their opportunity with Klopp understandably keen not to overburden any of his centre-backs.

For now, however, Matip is the man in possession. He won't play every game, but the Cameroonian has issued a reminder he has no intention of becoming Liverpool's forgotten man any time soon.


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