Premier League • England

Klopp claims ‘outstanding’ Liverpool man has case for being ‘best’ signing of his type

Joel Matip; Ibrahima Konate Liverpool v Porto

Joel Matip has a claim to be the best free signing, according to his Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who has been impressed by his form this season.

Injury issues have often plagued Matip during his time with Liverpool so far. He joined them on a free transfer in 2016 after leaving Schalke. He reached 100 appearances for the club within three years, but then the setbacks started.

Matip only made nine Premier League appearances when Liverpool won the title in the 2019-20 season. Then, last term, he was one of three members of Klopp’s backline to miss the majority of the second half of the campaign through injury.

While the former Cameroon international was out, it was thought his fellow defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez – both on the treatment tables at the same time – would be the starting pair upon their returns this year.

The summer signing of Ibrahima Konate further complicated Matip’s prospects. However, he has surprisingly been given the nod alongside van Dijk more than Konate or Gomez yet this season. The 30-year-old has started 17 Premier League matches, compared to Konate’s seven and Gomez’s zero.

Asked if Matip remains available in view of the game between Liverpool and Leicester on Thursday, Klopp replied (via the Echo): “He’s absolutely top.

“We had too many centre-backs injured in the last few years. Never their fault.

Matip labelled as ‘outstanding’

“We beat Napoli one year and Matip broke a bone, so yes, life without luck is difficult. I hope we stay more lucky than we were last few years. Long may it continue.

“He is an outstanding player. People talk about the best free signings as a transfer, I can imagine it would be a close race between Joel and Millie [James Milner].”

Joel Matip playing for Liverpool

Matip’s availability forms part of what Klopp hopes will be a fully-fit squad – or at least as close to one as he can remember since the summer.

He said: “It should be. We had a full squad in August? I cannot remember any time that happened, so I don’t speak about it too much.

“Hendo [Jordan Henderson] has a little bit of a back problem from the last game and Sadio [Mane] is not here – but these are not long-term. It’s not important who is playing, it’s how we’re playing.”

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Klopp assesses Leicester threat and season aims

The home game against Leicester gives Liverpool the chance to avenge the 1-0 defeat they suffered at the King Power Stadium in December’s reverse fixture.

That represents the most recent loss on Liverpool’s record; they have had five wins and two draws since the turn of the year.

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Leicester, in contrast, only won the first of their four games since beating Liverpool. Pressure has been building on ex-Reds boss Brendan Rodgers as a result.

But Klopp still expects his predecessor to bring a challenge to Anfield after analysing Leicester’s threats.

He explained: “They have an extreme threat on counter attacks and balls in behind with whoever is playing.

“It will be a proper football game and it’s at Anfield – we should not forget that. We should try and create a special atmosphere.

“We have 12 games until the next break so we need to create atmospheres on the highest level and Thursday night is a good night to do that.”

Already looking to the long-term, Klopp will be keen for Liverpool to keep fighting on all four fronts.

Catching Manchester City in the Premier League title race seems a tall task, but their hopes aren’t over just yet. Then, they have a Carabao Cup final to look forward to at the end of the month, and are still in the Champions League and FA Cup too.

Asked about the prospect of winning four trophies, Klopp confessed it is unlikely but something to keep them motivated.

He replied: “It’s not very likely [to win all four] but we are not here today to know what will happen in May. Leicester is, for us, the next big challenge.

“We want to squeeze everything out of this season. We still have accept we may not get everything as a reward.”

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