Opinion: It's time for Joel Matip to meet the Premier League

The EFL Cup Second Round tie on Tuesday marked Joel Matip's competitive debut in a Liverpool shirt. Fans had waited an age for the Cameroonian's  first appearance with the defender's signing being confirmed way back in February. It finally arrived and Liverpool's number 32 put in an impressive display.

Dominant debut

The game against Burton was  perfect for a player still looking to find his feet in a new country. The home side posed little to no threat as Liverpool dominated the contest from start to finish. A couple of defensive headers here and there pretty much summed up his night with a header off the line in injury time being the highlight of his defensive work. 

The former Schalke defender though showed more than enough to suggest that he is ready for Premier League action and that he can become a mainstay in the first team. He looked dominant and commanding in the air especially when Liverpool faced corners.

It was his distribution from the back, though, that was probably the most impressive thing to take from his performance. With Liverpool having Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan at the back the limited distribution has been clear. Both can play 40-yard cross field passes but haven't shown the aggressive passing Matip displayed on Tuesday night and during pre-season.

One thing that he does well is play incisive 20-yard passes forward which bypass the midfield, something that neither Klavan or Lovren can do as successfully as you would want. The passes allow Liverpool to quicken their play, something they didn't do against Burnley when they looked toothless in attack with the monotonously slow build up play. 

It's Matip's comfort on the ball that coukd see him thrust into Liverpool's first XI | Photo: Getty
It's Matip's comfort on the ball that coukd see him thrust into Liverpool's first XI | Photo: Getty

It's very similar to the type of passing which Mamadou Sakho has showcased but for many Matip looks much calmer on the ball and someone who is not liable to a slack pass. That was one of the biggest problems with Sakho who created moments of panic which some dodgy passes every now and again even though his ability on the ball is one of his strengths. It's why Jürgen Klopp appears to prefer Matip to Sakho and one of the reasons why the Frenchman has been given the opportunity to leave the club on loan for game time.

A place on the bench for Klavan?

Ragnar Klavan is the man who is likely to be ousted from the first eleven as a result of Matip's expected insertion. The 30-year-old central defender was another defensive addition over the summer. The Estonian captain was brought in for £4.2m from Augsburg and was thrust into action straight-away due to an injury crisis.

At that point in pre-season Liverpool had been reduced to just one fit senior centre half in Dejan Lovren. Matip had began the pre-season partnering the Croatian in what looked like Liverpool's first choice centre half pairing before limping off against Wigan with an injury. He joined Joe Gomez and Mamadou Sakho who were already in the process of recovering from their injury problems so a reinforcement was needed.

We've seen both the very good and the very bad from Klavan in the first two games of the season. Against Arsenal he was excellent; at Burnley he was the opposite. Away at the Emirates is a tough place to start your career in the Premier League but Klavan was one of the standout performers in Liverpool's 4-3 win. Yes, despite Liverpool conceding three goals, Klavan kept Alexis Sanchez quiet all game and dealt with everything that came his way as he carried on his promising form from pre-season.

At Burnley, however, Klavan was a lot more exposed and looked very uncomfortable up against Andre Gray. The counter attacking style that Burnley played and the lack of protection in front of him saw Klavan look uncomfortable when isolated with Gray. His defending for Burnley's second is something that won't be looked on too fondly.

It's the problem that foreign defenders can face when they enter the Premier League. The saying goes that you can't judge any player based on one game in the league and it is definitely applicable for central defenders. Look at Eliaquim Mangala at Manchester City. His first game in a City shirt saw him deal brilliantly with Diego Costa but since then he hasn't got anywhere near close to that standard on a consistent basis.

Reds' fans will be hoping Matip is more successful in the Premier League than Eliaquim Mangala | Photo: Getty
Reds' fans will be hoping Matip is more successful in the Premier League than Eliaquim Mangala | Photo: Getty

Klavan has only played in two Premier League games so if he was given the start against Tottenham he may redeem himself. The Premier League has to be one of the most difficult for a defender to adapt to due to the pace and power. It's important to remember however that Klavan wasn't brought in to go straight into the Liverpool team anyway. One bad game doesn't define a player but it may be enough to sway the judgement of Jürgen Klopp after Matip's assured performance in midweek.

It remains to be seen if Matip is the answer to Liverpool's defensive problems because of the ill-advised time of his injury in pre-season. Whilst he helped Liverpool collect clean sheets against Tranmere, Fleetwood and Wigan, Matip's injury came just before the US leg of the tour when the games were of a higher standard. He returned in the 4-0 loss to Mainz in Liverpool's final game of the pre-season but that was an under-par and under-strength Reds team that played that day. 

Matip was one of the players Klopp identified early on in his Liverpool tenure as someone he wanted to bring to the club. The early pre-season schedule showed that Lovren and Matip were going to be the centre back partnership entering the new season and by the looks of it, fans will get there first glimpse of it in the Premier League when Liverpool face Tottenham on Saturday.

Up against Harry Kane and the rest of the Tottenham attacking talents it's a difficult proposition even for the top players to keep them out so it will be a baptism of fire for Matip. He looks ready for the Premier League; lets just hope his first appearance in the competition marks Liverpool's first clean sheet of the league campaign.