Jurgen Klopp has four of the strongest centre-backs in Europe to use at Liverpool this season, with Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip starting the campaign as his preferred duo.
The importance of the former cannot be understated as he’s widely considered to be the best in the world in his position, whereas the latter is more closely compared with Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate.
Although the general quality of the Cameroonian defender is similar to Gomez and Konate, he has specific qualities which make him unique and those proved to be perfect over the course of the weekend.
Liverpool faced Leeds United away from home on Sunday afternoon and Matip was integral to how the Reds caused problems for Marcelo Bielsa’s game.
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The Whites coach has favoured man-marking throughout his managerial career and that has continued at Elland Road, with Leeds often going man-for-man all over the pitch regardless of who they’re facing.
Such an unorthodox approach often works for Bielsa, but specific weaknesses can be highlighted by opponents who know how to exploit them.
The willingness of the 30 year-old defender to carry the ball through large spaces is a particularly unique trait, but one that Leeds did not understand how to manage on the field.
Matip posted an incredible total of 13 progressive carries during the contest, which was at least five more than any other player on the pitch, with Sadio Mane in second on eight, followed by Diogo Jota’s seven.
He covered 350 yards in progressive distance, which is defined as the total distance that a player moved the ball with their feet towards the opponent’s goal.
The next-best was Sadio Mane once more, having accumulated 158 yards of progressive distance, which was less than half of Matip’s total.
From a Leeds perspective, his unconventional tendency to move into open spaces rather than making predictable passes forced their defensive approach into anarchy.
Whenever he was Liverpool’s only vacant player in possession, he carried the ball forward to the extent that he enticed Bielsa’s players into pressing him, which consequently opened up spaces for his teammates.
Matip consistently dragged Bielsa’s players from their positions and played a crucial role in the opening goal having darted forward with the ball from the centre circle to the final third.
He proceeded to play a one-two with Mohamed Salah before feeding Trent Alexander-Arnold out wide, who managed to assist Salah by hitting a low cross into the six-yard box, as shown below.
He doesn’t assume the spotlight as much as some others, but when he’s fit and available, Matip should be regarded as one of Klopp’s most trusted and reliable players.
He’ll continue to add value to Liverpool’s performances throughout the campaign, but his skill set is perhaps most evident when he’s up against sides who are naive enough to allow him the ball.
The summer transfer demand was for the Reds to sign a new attacking player but against Leeds, Matip transformed to become that additional offensive presence.
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