The Joel Matip Question Liverpool Must Address Sooner Rather Than Later
The injury Joel Matip suffered earlier this season has come out a really awkward moment for Liverpool. With Matip’s contract expiring in 2024 and him set to turn 33 years old this year – the end of the season seemed like the perfect moment to part ways for both parties.
However, now with Matip potentially still recovering when his contract expires, Liverpool may give him the courtesy of another year at the club – so he can bow out on a high.
But even if that will be the case, Liverpool cannot delay the search for a possible heir to his throne any longer.
Especially, as the perfect candidate may already be hiding in plain sight.
This season in the Premier League, Joel Matip has averaged the most adjusted-interceptions per 90 (9.57) out of any centre-back in the Premier League as per Wyscout. This pretty much sums up the best part of Matip’s defensive game.
He has never been a quick player – but he’s always been able to play comfortably even in Jurgen Klopp’s high-line. That’s because he reads the game really well, and he is really smart in the way he positions himself to make sure he has an advantage over his opponent.
Away from his defensive game, Matip’s ball playing ability is another huge asset for Liverpool. He is extremely adept at carrying the ball forward and beating opponents – which comes in especially handy to open up space against deep defensive blocks.
This season in the Premier League, he ranks in third place among centre-backs for progressive runs per 90 (2.24), with only Igor Julio (2.58) and Ruben Dias (3.25) averaging more – though this should come with the caveat that Julio has also played a lot of his minutes as a left-back for Brighton this season.
So, overall, Matip reads the game well and he is very effective at running forward with the ball – this is the kind of criteria that Liverpool will be looking for in a potential replacement as well.
Leny Yoro – The Perfect Solution
Over the last few months, Leny Yoro has really started to emerge as one of the best young centre-backs in European football at the moment. And based on his data, he could be an ideal option to fill the Matip void.
The headline stat is that this season he is the centre-back with the best defensive duel success rate (83.82%) and the best aerial duel success rate (80%) in Europe’s top five leagues. In the latter statistic, Yoro is currently bettering one of Liverpool’s very own in Virgil van Dijk – who is in second place winning 78.9% of his aerial duels so far.
Those stats alone are remarkable – but they are especially impressive for a player who is only 18 years old. Recently Le10Sport in France has reported that Liverpool are among the admirers for Yoro’s signature. Although, the Reds will have to pay a handsome fee thought to be between £60-90m in order to get his signature.
Worth The Price
Like Matip, Yoro is a right-sided centre-back. He is already 1.90 metres tall and posses that springy, slightly gangly profile that Matip has.
Above we’ve already highlighted just impressive he is at winning his duels, but he is also very good at reading the game as well.
Similarly to Matip he is not the fastest player. But his anticipation is exemplary. He’ll often cut-out passes and make important blocks, before the ball can even get to his opponent.
A large reason why he wins a high number of defensive duels is also because he is very good at sniffing out dangerous situations. Yoro will commit himself and he won’t allow his opponent a moments rest, which puts him at an advantage in any duel he participates in. Physically, he is also very strong and that makes it difficult for opponents to go around him.
There is no denying he is valued at a premium price for Liverpool – but given his age and his numbers – he is a potential worth paying for. Even if he isn’t quite the finished product just yet.
Room to improve
Naturally, at 18 years old, there are still areas of his game where Yoro can make improvements.
While, he is very composed on the ball, and technically gifted completing 93.68% of his passes – the best in Ligue 1 this season – there is still room for him to make more of an impact going forward.
If we look at Yoro’s heatmap (on the left) as per Wyscout in comparison to Matip’s (on the right), it’s clear the Lille defender doesn’t quite go forward as much as Matip.
The numbers reflect that as well – Yoro makes just 5.86 progressive passes per 90 and makes only 0.19 progressive runs per 90. As opposed to that Matip is on 6.93 progressive passes per 90 and as noted above 2.24 progressive runs.
This lack of output in possession is particularly surprising because Lille have quite a lot of the ball in Ligue 1 – only PSG has completed more passes than Yoro’s side this season – so you would expect him to be more active further up the pitch.
It could just be the case of a young centre-back naturally still adjusting to senior football and wanting to play things safe. However, this is definitely something Jurgen Klopp would have to work on to improve if Yoro is brought in.
Still Worth It
Overall though, Yoro’s on the ball ability is not necessarily a huge concern. It’s very much outweighed by the abundance of defensive statistics that are all in his favour.
At such a young age you’re never going to get a complete player, and the defensive part of the game (such as his ability to anticipate danger) is a lot more difficult to coach than what to do with the ball in possession.
So even at the hefty price tag that Lille have set – Yoro is well worth the money. Liverpool will struggle to find a better player who reads the game just as well as Matip, and who has such a high ceiling.