Opinion: Why Joël Matip deserves a new deal with Liverpool
Photo: Getty Images - Oli Scarff

Virgil van Dijk may be closing in on the PFA Player of the Year award amid widespread recognition that he is one of, if not the best centre-back in the world, but his partner of late has become an unsung hero. Until now.

Rumours suggest Joël Matip is in line for a new long-term contract at Liverpool – welcome news for Liverpool fans and a deal which is completely deserved for the 27-year-old.

Have no fear, Matip is here

Matip has excelled alongside the imperious van Dijk since coming into the Liverpool team following a serious leg injury to Joe Gomez in December, who was impressing greatly himself in the centre of defence. Liverpool fans feared for their backline with Gomez’s injury, despite the continuing excellence of van Dijk and Liverpool’s full-backs, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

However, Matip has stepped forward to produce his finest campaign with the club, even trumping his debut season when the Reds secured a top four finish and Champions League football with Matip and Dejan Lovren in defence.

The Cameroon international’s consistency this season has never been better than right now in a Liverpool shirt, having featured in the majority of Liverpool’s matches since Gomez’s injury. Lovren did come into the side for a few weeks when Matip himself sustained a broken collarbone against Napoli in the Champions League at Anfield, but once he recovered in January he was immediately restored into Jürgen Klopp’s starting line-up.

Liverpool defence unrivalled across England and Europe

Matip’s form has allowed Liverpool to maintain their reputation as the Premier League’s meanest defence, conceding just twenty league goals in thirty-five matches this season.

Such defensive statistics also trump all sides in Europe’s top five leagues, meaning Liverpool not only have the best defence in England, but in all of Europe. Not bad considering where they were just a couple of years ago.

All of the recent praise for Liverpool’s defence could have come crashing down, alongside their title challenge if Matip was not up to the task of replacing Gomez as van Dijk’s partner.

Yet that has not been a problem for the man who must be regarded as one of the best third-choice central defenders in world football following his form this season – his performance in the 2-0 win against Cardiff City outshone even his prestigious Dutch colleague.

Matip or Gomez?

At their best, Gomez would most likely force his way back into the side, but Matip deserves to see out the season in current form, especially as Gomez will need minutes to recover his match fitness and sharpness, and easier minutes are hard to come by at this stage of a potentially historic season as Liverpool continue to chase a Premier League and Champions League double.

Gomez’s pace may be a valuable asset in the Champions League semi-final clash with Barcelona, particularly across the vast spaces of the Nou Camp, but his pace is of little use if Gomez is not yet able to operate at his highest level.

Matip’s assurance, consistency and ability to play out from the back are invaluable at this crucial point in Liverpool’s campaign. Van Dijk is as comfortable alongside Matip as he is with Gomez, and the latter, unfortunate as it may be for him because of his injury troubles, just cannot offer the guarantees that Matip does right now.

Matip or Sakho? No Contest

As he has also shown, Matip does like a dribble. His lanky frame usually ventures forward at least once a match, swaying effortlessly through the opposition with a casualness that entertains the thought of sheer randomness entering Matip’s thinking.

Yet whilst comparisons are often drawn with Mamadou Sakho’s unusual passing technique, Matip’s adventures forward regularly opens up space for Liverpool’s attackers and pushes the team higher up the pitch, creating a base for another wave of attacks and pressure that can lead to goals.

Matip’s distribution is certainly incomparable to Sakho’s – he and van Dijk regularly spray long-range passes forward to create attacks entirely of their own making, operating as deep-lying playmakers as much as centre-backs.

Matip has become a vital cog in the Liverpool winning machine and still has time on his side at 27, an age which suggests he is about to hit his peak as a central defender. Lovren is the wrong side of 30 and injury-prone, while Gomez needs to prove his long-term durability if he is to become van Dijk’s true partner.

In the meantime, Liverpool will find no better alternative than Matip, who has proven his ability to come in for long-term spells and blend seamlessly into the rock that is Liverpool’s defence.

The new contract will hopefully be just the first of many rewards for Matip as he reaches the end of his third year at Anfield – his newfound enduring quality could result in major trophies coming back to the red half of Merseyside.