"Being around him... everybody improves" - Star hailed by teammate ahead of Friday's game: Joel Matip insists teammate Virgil van Dijk’s mere presence raises the performance levels of others

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Liverpool’s Joel Matip has been singing the praises of The Reds’ colossal Dutch centre-half Virgil van Dijk.

Matip has recovered well from a fractured collarbone in early December to start all of Liverpool’s previous 12 games in all competitions. Jurgen Klopp will not have missed the importance of Matip’s availability in light of the injuries to Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez, also in December.

Gomez and VanDijk was Klopp’s first-choice partnership at the back after a hugely impressive first four months of the season. Then Gomez broke his ankle in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Burnley at the start of December.

Matip, upon returning from his own injury, has played a far greater role in Liverpool’s season than it looked like he would before December.

During that time, the former Schalke defender has enjoyed playing with Van Dijk who he considers to be “a complete defender”.

Speaking about Van Dijk to Premier League Productions, Matip said:

“He’s a great defender.

“And being around him, I think everybody improves. He has had a big impact on the improvement. It’s great to play [with] him. He’s a complete defender and he knows what to do.

“Every defender does things a little bit differently. You always need some time to really know each other. This is normal. I think we need this time in a good way and this is working most of the time quite well.”

Commenting on his prolonged run in the first team, Matip added:

“It’s not too bad; I always know that I have to improve but it’s a good feeling to be on the pitch and to play.

“If you win it’s also not too bad. I’m happy. But you know you have always to improve, to get better, to be part of the team.”

Matip’s professional approach makes him an ideal squad member for a team challenging for silverware such as Liverpool. Generally speaking, Matip will do the job required of him when necessary – frequently turning in 7/10-rated performances when the first-choice centre-back (Gomez) is unavailable.

Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both back in full training with the first team now so we can expect to see Gomez getting some much-needed game-time over the coming weeks.

Matip will not simply hand over that starting place without a fight, however. It’s a problem Jurgen Klopp will be glad to have.

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