Joel Matip continues to be a key piece in Jurgen Klopp's puzzle

Joel Matip continues to be a key piece in Jurgen Klopp’s puzzle… the quiet centre back rarely gets the headlines but he is hugely important for Liverpool – and he proved it against Aston Villa

  • Joel Matip continues to be a solid defensive partner alongside Virgil van Dijk
  • The 29-year-old continues to impress at the forefront of the Reds defence 
  • German-born Matip joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Schalke in 2016 

The irony of it all for Joel Matip was that the moment he made the highlights reel was the point when a calamity looked set to befall Liverpool.

As Aston Villa threw caution to the wind and began to ask questions of their hosts, keeper Alisson dashed out of his goal and crashed a clearance straight into Matip. The pair got in a pickle, substitute Danny Ings attempted to intervene and Alisson was lucky not to concede a penalty.

Fortunately, games are more than just edited-together packages, and the real picture of Matip’s day was totally different than that scrambled snapshot.

Matip has been a shrewd piece of business following his move from Schalke on a free in 2016 

Matip has formed a solid partnership alongside Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the defence

He may be the quiet man of Liverpool’s dressing room, someone who rarely gets headlines, but his importance to this team is huge.

Liverpool started the season with questions being asked of their defence, particularly after they conceded five goals in a week against Brentford and Manchester City. But their form has improved and they have started to be miserly once again.

Since the 3-2 defeat at West Ham on November 7, Liverpool have won seven games in a row, keeping five clean sheets. Matip has played in all bar two of those fixtures, when he was rested against Southampton and AC Milan, and the only time they were breached with him in the side was by Demarai Gray in the Merseyside derby.

Matip was one of the first signings Klopp made, a free transfer from Schalke in July 2016. It is one of the shrewdest pieces of business Liverpool have completed during this recent period, as the fee for a player of his quality would have run into the tens of millions.

Matip (left) tangles with Ollie Watkins during Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Aston Villa

Mohamed Salah earned Liverpool a penalty having been brought down by Tyrone Mings

Villa arrived on Merseyside with ambition and, while it is early days under Steven Gerrard, they look a progressive, united team. But the frustration they had here was the fact they simply could not get into the positions to cause Liverpool problems.

That, primarily, was down to the dominance of Matip — whose influence is crucial as Virgil van Dijk works his way back to peak form — and the two totems in midfield, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. 

We all know about Liverpool’s ability to cut loose and score goals by the bucketload but you got the impression from Klopp that the last two domestic results — 1-0, 1-0 — were the kind he absolutely loves.

‘One-nil, a difficult opponent, a clean sheet — we can’t be too hard on ourselves,’ said Van Dijk, who picked up an uncharacteristic booking for wrestling Ollie Watkins down in the first half. ‘We did well, they created some moments of danger but we deserved the win.’

Such was Liverpool’s overwhelming desire to do the hard yards, Klopp turned to roar to the crowd when Henderson — once again outstanding — ran 25 yards at full speed to close down.

Salah converted the resulting spot kick to help Liverpool to three points at Anfield on Saturday

Villa manager and former Reds legend Steven Gerrard embraces Matip at full time at Anfield

He celebrated that more than the penalty — converted by the nerveless Mohamed Salah — which secured the victory.

‘That is something we have to be completely committed as a squad to — defending,’ said Klopp. ‘That’s our idea. If this squad, this team defends on the highest level we always have a chance to score a goal and if we don’t do that then we need to score two, three, four.

‘That makes no sense because that’s not always possible. There are so many things you have to think about, but the most important thing is that you are well protected because then you feel really free for offensive things.’

There will be plenty more days when Salah and Sadio Mane and the other members of Liverpool’s potent attack cut loose but, in the times when it is difficult, they will look behind and recognise the protection is there. Nobody provides more of it than Matip.

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