Jurgen Klopp’s approach to managing his Liverpool defence, and in particular Joel Matip, shows he has heeded Jamie Carragher’s warning from the injury-struck 2020/21 season
With the nightmarish echoes of last season’s injury crisis gradually dispersing, Liverpool’s defence is arguably the strongest it has been during Jurgen Klopp ‘s tenure.
As unearthed earlier this week, the steadfast performance of a midfield marshalled by Thiago has helped the Reds keep three shutouts in their last four Premier League games.
Between the posts, Alisson has been typically brilliant and the only match where he was found wanting was the 3-2 defeat at West Ham in November.
But, of course, the key to clean sheets is a partnership at centre-back, where Liverpool are blessed with a number of classy operators.
Virgil van Dijk has been almost ever-present at the heart of defence with Joel Matip his primary partner and Ibrahima Konate often coming into the starting XI.
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Netherlands international Van Dijk recently had the opportunity to banish the bad memories of the anterior cruciate ligament rupture which ended his 2020/21 campaign at Goodison Park, the same ground where he sustained the injury.
While there was no clean sheet during a pulsating Merseyside derby at the start of December, Liverpool restored their honour with an emphatic 4-1 victory over their rivals.
Everton had claimed the local bragging rights with a 2-0 win at Anfield in February, when the Reds’ injury crisis was at its peak with Ozan Kabak and Jordan Henderson lining up at centre-back.
Liverpool’s decline saw them slip as low as eighth in the table and lose six consecutive home games in the top flight, and it was largely pinned on them being without Van Dijk.
But it is well worth remembering their form only nosedived when Matip followed his teammate into the treatment room with a long-term ankle injury sustained in January.
The Cameroonian had been in fine form up to that point, but old frailties reared their head as he was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Matip’s serious injury came just weeks after Anfield legend Jamie Carragher fired a stern warning over his ability, or lack thereof, to cope with the physicality of English football.
“Joel Matip is just too injury prone, his body can’t take the rigours of playing Premier League football week in, week out,” the former England centre-back told Sky Sports in December 2020.
While the last thing Klopp needed at the time was a reminder of Matip’s unfortunate habit of getting injured, his approach with the 30-year-old this season shows he has learned a valuable lesson.
Remarkably, the former Schalke star has already played more minutes in the current campaign than in either of the 2019/20 or 2020/21 terms.
Klopp has expertly withdrawn him from the firing line at regular intervals, deploying Konate in his stead to good effect in the Premier League and Champions League.
The upshot is Matip has avoided injury, and in a fresh interview with Sky Sports he declared: “I feel good, I’m confident, and I hope that I stay fit.”
With Carragher’s warning heeded by Klopp, Liverpool’s unyielding defence is proving to be the foundation of another title charge.