How Joel Matip Became Liverpool's Underrated Star - Anfield Wrap Writing

While injuries have undoubtedly impacted Joel Matip’s Liverpool career so far, he’s quietly become one of The Reds’ most underrated players…

 

LABELLING a player as underrated is a strange concept, isn’t it?

Who gets to decide whether a player is underrated or not? Maybe it’s the ‘Top Reds’.

Is being classed as underrated a right reserved for those who rarely find themselves in the headlines? Or for a player who does the ugly, but effective, side of the game; the grit and the grind that is a necessary supplement to the flair?

Gini Wijnaldum was always the poster boy for these conversations. Rarely scoring or grabbing assists in the way he does for his country; he was one of the club’s most divisive figures. His influence always focused more on the intangibles — a strong reading of the game, rhythm, and control. Some quarters argued he was a hindrance, while others saw his influence.

Jordan Henderson has found himself in similar conversations through the years, having originally been cast aside by large sections of the fanbase and dismissed as not good enough. He has since emerged as one of the most important cogs in the system; a decorated captain and a player whose presence makes this side a much stronger proposition.

In more recent times, however, Joel Matip has taken up the mantle, regularly featuring in conversations about the team’s more underrated talents. Does his injury record make us forget just how good he can be? Is he surprisingly influential in the build-up play? Is his presence undervalued?

The Cameroonian has never been one to steal the limelight, but when fit, he is one of the most underrated centre backs in the Premier League.

Liverpool's Joel Matip (L) and Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield

He has shown how well-rounded a footballer he is — calm on the ball, aerially strong with an eye for a pass and a drive to bring the ball out of defence — and was a major, often understated, influence in the 2018-19 defence which shipped just 22 goals all season alongside an infamous assist in Madrid.

You can count the number of bad games he’s had on one hand and his record at Liverpool speaks for itself. In 37 league starts since 2018-19, The Reds have recorded 25 wins and 17 clean sheets. He flies under the radar but is an excellent defender, one that was as sorely missed as any last season.

Given the degree of the injury crisis last season, it feels as though Matip’s form since his return hasn’t been given the praise it deserves. Out for six months in January, 22 games missed and yet he’s barely put a foot wrong so far. I can’t think of many players who could settle back into this team after so long out like Joel Matip has.

He is a more than worthy shout for Liverpool’s player of the month for August, having started in all three opening league games. Given his performances so far, that’s unlikely to change against Leeds and rightfully so. He reads the game superbly, looks assured in possession, and the rhythm he adds to the team and the injection of pace into the build-up play is a major strength.

Staying fit is the obvious challenge, having played just 19 league games in the previous two seasons, but the hope will be that Joe Gomez’s return alongside the arrival of Ibrahima Konate will enable Klopp to carefully manage his minutes and mitigate any risks of injury. Should he succeed in keeping the 30-year-old fit and healthy for the majority of this season, it’ll be a major boost.

Everyone knows Virgil van Dijk is a world-class defender, but the quiet and understated presence of Joel Matip shouldn’t be ignored. He hasn’t put a foot wrong so far this season and, when fit, there are few better than him.

Joel Matip may be as mad as they come, but he’s the epitome of underrated.


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