Liverpool's problems are all too clear if Matip is the answer
Liverpool’s problems are all too clear if injury-prone Joel Matip is the answer -Jurgen Klopp’s side need reliability in the heart of defence
- Liverpool are reliant upon Joel Matip, which shows where their problems are
- Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were deployed as centre-backs v Southampton
- Liverpool missed Henderson’s presence in midfield as they fell to a 1-0 defeat
Is it too simplistic to say that the direction of Liverpool’s season now hinges on the fitness of Joel Matip?
Maybe — but rarely has so much importance been placed on the future well-being of a team’s third-best central defender. But with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured for the rest of the campaign, it feels like Matip will have to make a significant contribution when he returns from his latest problem if his team’s underwhelming form is not to continue.
Not all of Liverpool’s issues are in this area. Despite a recent 7-0 thumping of Crystal Palace in London, Liverpool have not been as fluent with the ball this season. Jurgen Klopp’s team do not look as irresistibly dangerous and do not create as many chances. That has been apparent since the defence of their Premier League title began.
If Liverpool have to rely on the injury-prone Joel Matip then it shows where their problems lie
However, Liverpool’s championship season was built on a reliability when they didn’t have the ball and in the absence of Van Dijk and Gomez that has been irrefutably lost.
Fabinho, a midfielder, is currently the mainstay in the centre of the defence and has hardly faltered. It is finding someone to fill the position next to him that is the problem. When Matip went off at Fulham with a muscle injury three weeks ago, Klopp asked Jordan Henderson to drop back in to the position.
For this game, the Liverpool captain played there from the start. The 30-year-old was capable enough and was not to blame for Southampton’s early goal. That was Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fault.
But as Manchester City found out last season, playing your best central midfielder in defence creates another problem. It was Fernandinho who played at the back for City and his deployment there always looked unsatisfactory because it took the Brazilian away from the area where he excelled.
Liverpool missed Jordan Henderson’s presence in midfield as he was deployed in defence
It is exactly the same with Liverpool and Henderson. Here, as Liverpool struggled to dominate for periods, they missed Henderson in the centre of the field. They already miss Fabinho there and the removal of Henderson asked questions about Liverpool’s midfield three of Thiago, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gini Wijnaldum that they could not really answer.
Thiago, returning from injury himself, had a very difficult night. He was harshly called for a foul in only the second minute and from that set piece Southampton scored.
Not long after that, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was booked. How Liverpool miss Naby Keita in midfield, too. The Keita they thought they were buying from RB Leipzig two- and-a-half years ago rather than the injury-prone player who has made such a limited impact. Keita has made 50 Premier League starts for Liverpool. It says everything that it feels like many fewer.
It will be very interesting to see what Klopp does to address the issues that Liverpool have
Liverpool’s season needs impetus now and it will be interesting to see what Klopp does. He has suggested he is not keen to buy a central defender this month but what the German really means is that there is nobody out there worth bringing in who could be bought mid-season.
City have also suffered with that conundrum in recent times. What is beyond doubt is that Klopp’s team require a change of mood soon.
They face Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Friday and then Manchester United in the league nine days later. Matip will not be available for either game.
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