Liverpool has announced the completion of the signing of Bochum-born Joel Matip from Schalke 04 on a free transfer, a move that’s been brewing for weeks. Can the central defender, who will join LFC in the summer, solve some of the club’s defensive problems and provide some offense, too?
Matip started his career in the VFL Bochum academy. Matip’s transition to professional football began when he moved to Gelsenkirchen joining Schalke 04’s second team in the Regionalliga. He made his professional debut at the age of 18 and made four appearances for their second team.
His break came when he grabbed headlines, scoring an equaliser against Louis Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich on his debut for the first team. His performance and goal earned him the man of the match award. In 2011/12, Matip played at centre-back alongside Benedikt Höwedes and since then the Cameroon international has been a regular fixture in the team, making almost 250 appearances for the Royal Blues in all competitions.
The 24-year old central defender has worked his way up to become one the most respected and talented defenders in the Bundesliga. Most noticeably, it’s his headed chances, interceptions, clearances and blocks which support this. He also ranks highest in tackles for Schalke and likes to play on the front foot, something that suits Klopp’s style of play. His pace, mobility and aggression must also be noted.
He is a versatile player and can play as holding midfielder, not just his preferred centre back role and is seen as the replacement for Kolo Toure – who has been told his contract will not be renewed in the summer. He has proved he is comfortable on the ball when under pressure. Compared to Liverpool’s centre backs this season – Matip has completed more dribbles than any of them.
His physicality and ease in possession suggest he would be a welcome addition to the Premier League. He can play on either the left or right side in the centre back role. With experience in the Bundesliga, Champions League and the Europa League at just 24, he is the perfect option.
He said regarding his versatility: “I was playing for the youth team when my coach Norbert Elgert had the idea to put me up front. I played there for six months and it was a success. I even scored with my feet – not just my head. Then after being out for a long time with injury, I went straight into the senior team, where I was once again used as a defender because it’s what I know best.”
It seems partnering Mamadou Sakho in the centre of defence will no doubt be preferable to Klopp.
“I’ve been at Schalke since 2000, which shows my connection to the club is strong. I feel good and I’m happy to be playing here, where I grew up. That’s why I can imagine myself staying here. But you can’t always stay at home”, Matip said back in January.
The fact he could arrive on a free transfer and on a low wage is a huge plus for Klopp. As he fits the model set-out by Fenway Sports Group of signing players aged 24 or younger, being able to cover a number of positions too and develop in too a bright Premier League star means signing Matip is a no-brainer. For Schalke, losing a player still young but with so much experience will be a blow, especially with no transfer fee coming in to cushion the loss.
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