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Jurgen Klopp has easy Joel Matip decision to make as Liverpool search goes on

Joel Matip is fit and ready for action again, which could at least ease one of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool problems just now.

It would not have been the scenario Joel Matip would have wished for his Champions League comeback.

 

With his Liverpool team-mates crumbling to dust at the Maradona Stadium – and fortunate to be just three goals down after one of the worst 45-minute periods of Jurgen Klopp’s entire Anfield tenure – Matip was sent on for his first European appearance since Benfica visited in mid-April.

 

Joe Gomez was the player who was hooked, taken off after a number of glaring individual errors on his own first start at centre-back in the continent’s premier competition for 12 months. In truth, while the 25-year-old’s lapses in concentration and mistakes in possession were exposed on a chastening evening in Naples, Klopp could have picked virtually any of his starting 11 to have made way at the interval.

 

Having signed a new contract earlier in the summer, there will be no concern about Gomez eventually returning to the kind of level he was at during the peak period of his career during Liverpool’s title charge of 2019/20, but having rarely featured last season having fought back from a career-threatening knee injury in 2020, the former Charlton Athletic youngster is finding it tough to locate the kind of rhythm Klopp places so much emphasis on.

 

Hoping for him to do it while many of his team-mates’ levels dip so alarmingly is unfair on a player whose last two years have been majorly disrupted. After all, Gomez has played just 28 of the last 71 games. Only 16 of those have been starts and the five that have come this season have been out of necessity due to injuries to Matip and Ibrahima Konate.

 

Matip’s initial comeback was on Saturday in the goalless affair at Goodison Park as he emerged after a near month-long absence from the side for the final 10 minutes, but it was in Italy where the defender took his first real steps towards a place back in the team.

 

Having established a reputation as one of Liverpool’s apparent plethora of players who could be fairly labelled as ‘injury prone’ during his six years on Merseyside, Matip bucked the trend last term as he featured in 43 of Liverpool’s 63 matches across all four competitions. The former Schalke man avoided any injuries and missed games through COVID and illness only.

 

Fit and available for action once more this time around after an early groin problem, Matip can now offer Klopp some much-needed stability in the centre of his defence.

Klopp complained that a lack of midfield pressure on the ball in Naples was the biggest problem on the night as he dismissed criticism of his team’s famous high defensive line, but it was notable that Liverpool improved defensively after the break, even if there is an argument to be made that Luciano Spalletti’s men justifiably believed their hard work had been done by that point, especially when it went to 4-0 early in the second half.

 

Virgil van Dijk has already been partnered with three different colleagues just a month into the new season and none of them have been Konate, whose injury picked up in what was, with hindsight, a pretty meaningless friendly with Strasbourg goes on without any real public timeframe attached to it.

 

So the comeback of Matip is a timely one as Klopp looks to rebuild confidence levels and return his side to the sort of even keel they enjoyed last term.

 

Consistency and continuity at centre-back will be key to that happening, which is why a strong, uninterrupted run for Matip alongside Van Dijk could yet be vital.

 

At a time when the search for form goes on, a dependable pairing at the heart of his defence should provide Klopp with something to build on.

 

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