We as Liverpool fans are not used to having proper squad depth. It might explain why we’re always so eager to pit players against one another and declare one the winner.
We did it with Kostas Tsimikas and Andrew Robertson earlier on in the season. Instead of marvelling at the fact we had left-back cover for a player many consider to be the best in the world in their position, there seemed to be an eagerness to declare Tsimikas was better and should start.
The same thing has happened with Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane and now we’re seeing it with Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip.
The Frenchman was arguably the Man-of-the-Match against Inter Milan at San Siro in what was a flawless performance. He made blocks, tackles and interceptions while also showing a lot of composure when pressed by the hosts. It was easily his best game in the red of Liverpool.
Matip returned to the starting XI for the win over Norwich City and had a role in the visitor’s opener, diverting the ball past Alisson having dangled a leg out in an attempt to block Milot Rashica’s effort.
It is not the first time he’s done it and it definitely won’t be the last. Some criticised him for this, believing there was no real need for him to stick a foot out in this scenario. If you’re being really harsh, then maybe there is some truth to that. The Norwich attacker is 20-yards out and his shot does not look that dangerous. But it was likely instinctive. Had he not made an attempt to block it and it had beaten Alisson, people would’ve highlighted the fact he did not block it.
However, it was enough ammunition for a section of fans to really get behind the idea that Konate should be the first-choice partner for Virgil Van Dijk.
Granted, Matip has looked a little out of sorts over recent weeks. His performances haven’t necessarily dropped off, he just isn’t as dominant as he was earlier on in the campaign. Perhaps it is just a little bit of tiredness. He has already featured in 28 games this season and we’re still in February. The most he’s played for Liverpool was in 2017/18 when he made 35 appearances across all competitions and the last time he played more than 30 times in a single campaign was during 2018/19. The former Schalke man might just not be used to having this amount of minutes in his legs at this stage of the season.
But it is still a little premature to be writing off Matip.
Per FBRef, he is in the 90th percentile or better among centre-backs across Europe’s top five leagues for passes attempted, pass completion, progressive passes, progressive carries, dribbles completed and aerials won.
Konate is not yet as progressive as his team-mate, but he is much more of an aggressive defender – making more interceptions and winning more of his aerial duels.
Just maybe, Jurgen Klopp knows what he is doing. He is picking the best man for the job depending on the opposition and, so far, that seems to be working out. Why would you be in such a rush to change it?