Saturday , November 28 2020

Barcelona’s Joel Matip moves unimaginatively as Liverpool man prepares to answer call



In a season where it seems like anything can and will happen, a line has to be drawn somewhere.

That came earlier in the week when reports in Spain suggested that Barcelona were considering strengthening their defensive resources with a move in January for Liverpool midfielder Joel Matip.

It’s not that Cameroon can’t perform at Camp Nou. Indeed, his imperious exhibition in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against the Spaniards in 2019 may have gone a long way in explaining their interest.

But with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez facing a battle to be fit again this season, Matip has now been promoted as Liverpool senior – and, in fact, only – available as a recognized referee.

The Reds that allow him to leave in the New Year are unimaginable, even if reinforcements are brought. Not when so much could rest on the defender’s shoulders, starting with the visit of Premier League leaders Leicester City on Sunday night.

With Matip having recently missed five games with a muscle problem and making a total of just three top starts in 13 months, Liverpool will no doubt try to lighten the workload on the 29-year-old player where that is Possible.

But in terms of talent, there is no doubt that Jurgen Klopp is able to answer the call and become a defensive fulcrum once again.

“Since he’s been with us it’s been pretty much incredible,” said the Liverpool boss. “That’s why we signed it.

“Unbelievable how good he is. Yes, he was unlucky with injuries. Before he signed on our behalf, he played for Schalke through four or five or six years, then when he gets here he’s unlucky.

“They’ve all been different injuries. The last injury he had, someone had broken his tendon on the front of his foot by turning on it, again last season’s Everton game.

“Then he’s out again and he looks vulnerable, but it’s something that everyone would have suffered in exactly the same situation.

“Now he’s back and hoping for a long time. Is this the best moment of his career? I don’t know. But I’m very happy with the moment he’s had for the last four years here.”

Matip is likely to be partnered by Fabinho, who returned to training this week after recovering from the hamstring issue that ruled him out for more than three weeks.

The duo have only started together in central defense once before, though they kept a clean sheet in a goalless home tie with Bayern Munich in the Champions League in February 2019.

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Liverpool are entertaining Leicester missing not only their best defender in Van Dijk, but also their most creative player in Trent Alexander-Arnold, their top scorer at Mohamed Salah and arguably the most inspirational in skipper Jordan Henderson .

With the Reds’ injury and illness crisis continuing to bite, lieutenant James Milner and Guinea Wijnaldum will be expected to step up as senior figures as Liverpool aim to set a new club record of 64 home league games unbeaten.

Klopp, though, is confident that his team can demonstrate why they have been called ‘mind monsters’ by their manager.

“I’ve said many times the character of my players, not only Millie and Hendo but like Guinea and Virg, these guys are natural leaders,” he said. “What they have done in the last few years is exceptional.

“It’s so much more that we’re creating an instant feel and we’re working on it.

“Friday was the first time all the boys had been together since the Man City game. We’ll create a mood for ourselves. That’s obvious.

“If only two players go into the dressing room now and tell the boys what to do, then that’s not enough. We all have to step up and that’s what we’re going to do. I don’t care about that. “

Klopp found himself the subject of speculation following Germany’s UEFA 6-0 Nations League clash with Spain mid-week, with calls on him to replace Joachim Low as head coach of the national team.



Liverpool star Mohamed Salah

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The Reds boss, though, is only concerned with issues at Anfield.

“I thought it was the most frequently asked question of my life!” he laughs at suggestions he might take the German job.

“In the future, maybe. Now, no. Because I don’t have time – I have a job. A pretty intense job, incidentally.

“I’m not sure if anyone has been asking about me in public, but if they don’t know, I have a job here, in Liverpool. Even when the weather’s bad again, I do like.

“I’m responsible for a lot of things here. So I’m not going to look for another challenge out there, I already have enough challenges after waking up in the morning. That’s enough!”




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