Who is Joel Matip and how will he fit in at Liverpool?
Robbie Purves | February 2, 2016
Liverpool to land Bundesliga rising star for next season
On February 15th, Liverpool announced the signing of Joel Matip on a four-year pre-contract agreement with Schalke – in what will be a free transfer
With Cameroon international Matip arriving in summer, fans on Merseyside will be able to do their own scouting report on the Cameroonian, as Schalke search for a Champions League birth look to triumph in the Europa League
Schalke finished top of their Europa League group and Coral have them at a superb 33/1 to win the competition.
Who is Matip?
Born in Bochum, Germany, to German and Cameroonian parents, Matip began his career as a youngster with SC Weitmar 45, before joining local side VfL Bochum in 1997 as a six-year-old.
He rose through the ranks before Gelsenkirchen club Schalke made a move for him in 2000 when he was nine. Matip’s older brother, Marvin, and fellow Indomitable Lion was left behind and now plays for Ingolstadt.
Felix Magath and Joachim Low have previously tried to convince Matip to represent Germany but he declined and said in 2010, it was a ‘gut feeling’.
Rigobert Song and Charles Itandje are the only Cameroonians to have played for Liverpool and the Indomitable Lions – the latter represented them after his Anfield stay.
Matip’s father, Jean, was also a footballer and played for Cameroon at international level.
The 24 year-old is a product of Schalke’s famed academy, which has recently produced the likes of: Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler, Max Meyer and Leroy Sane.
Though able to operate across all defensive positions and in midfield, Matip is a natural centre half. In 2011/12 he established himself as first-choice in the heart of defence with 2014 World Cup winner Benedikt Howedes, who is presently sidelined by injury.
The current state of Liverpool’s defensive wall
Simon Mignolet has let in the joint second most goals in the Premier League this season. This just isn’t good enough for a club that has aspirations of qualifying for the Champions League and winning the title.
Liverpool are 10/1 to make it into the Champions League places this season and currently sit 8th.
A lot of criticism has been directed Mignolet’s way but a portion of the blame has to be with the back four.
Mamadou Sakho lacks the mental strength and concentration to become a real elite centre back and is too rash when tackling – he also struggles with positional play.
Kolo Toure is another inconsistent player and cannot be relied upon to be a mainstay at the heart of Liverpool’s defence if they want to be taken seriously as title challengers. He is 34 and his contract runs out this summer, so a departure from Anfield looks likely.
Martin Skrtel, like all of the above, has struggled with injury and it is hard to build momentum and familiarity within the defence. Steven Caulker came in during the January but has been predominantly used as an emergency striker, coming off the bench.
While at Southampton, Dejan Lovren looked a solid, promising defender. Another struck by injury, the Croatia international has struggled to settle in and has looked out of his depth at times. However, this could change with a recognised, talented, consistent partner next to him in the form of Matip.
Can Matip solve the Red’s defensive woes?
Matip is very much a defender of the modern era. He has a cool head and is positionally superb. He leads Schalke in interceptions, blocks and clearances.
He may lack a certain aggression and edge to his game, but again tops the club in tackles and heading clearances.
Standing at 6ft 4in, he is dominant in the air, yet comfortable with the ball and often starts attacks from defence. Matip likes to bring the ball out and has completed more dribbles than any of Liverpool’s defenders this season. He also averages a respectable one goal every 10 games.
Matip likes to defend on the front foot. His pace and mobility mean he’s ideal to play in Jurgen Klopp’s high lined defence. Liverpool’s boss has reportedly been interested in the Cameroonian for years and tried to sign him at Borussia Dortmund.
The arrival of versatile Matip could usher out Toure and perhaps even Skrtel,as he will likely land a starting spot and look to develop a partnership with either Sakho or Lovren.
A positive for the Anfield faithful is that he isn’t particularly injury prone. Apart from last year when Matip missed around 15 games with a foot injury, he has stayed injury free for most of his career and has played every single league game this year.
However, a transfer to Liverpool often brings an injury curse and Matip will no doubt be holding his hamstring come August.
Serbian youngster Marko Grujic, who signed for £5.1m from Red Star Belgrade in January and was immediately loaned back, was Klopp’s first signing as manager. Who else will join his revolution on Merseyside?
Fans have seen the green shoots of improvement with fast, pressing football and despite an atrocious league campaign so far, and can be optimistic about the future under the smiling Klopp.