Liverpool may have beaten Norwich City 4-1 on the opening night of the new Premier League season, but the scoreline did not tell the full story of the game. The Reds were deserved winners and could probably have scored even more goals had they needed to, but they also looked vulnerable at the back against Daniel Farke’s bold visitors to Anfield.
There were some structural reasons for Liverpool’s uncharacteristic openness, and the fact that it was their first competitive game of the season must be taken into account. However, it was still a little surprising that Jürgen Klopp opted for Joe Gomez as Virgil van Dijk’s partner in the heart of the backline, just as he had done a few days earlier in the Community Shield clash with Manchester City.
Gomez began last season brilliantly, demonstrating exactly why he is widely regarded as one of Europe’s most promising young centre-backs. However, the England international suffered a serious ankle injury in early December, ruling him out of action until April.
Gomez was playing at right-back in the game in which he suffered his injury – a 3-1 defeat of Burnley – with Joel Matip alongside van Dijk at centre-half. That was only the Matip’s second start of 2018/19, but Gomez’s injury presented him with a chance to nail down a spot in the XI for the remainder of the campaign.
It was an opportunity Matip did not pass up. The former Schalke man was superb in the second half of the campaign, helping Liverpool win the Champions League, record their best ever points tally in the top flight and post the division’s strongest defensive record. He and van Dijk formed a magnificent partnership at the back, and by the end of the season Liverpool had recorded 12 clean sheets in Matip’s 17 Premier League starts.
Given how well he performed last term, Matip would probably have expected to retain his place in the team at the start of this season. That was not the case, but he did return for the 2-1 victory over Southampton last weekend, before starring in Saturday’s 3-1 success against Arsenal, a result which means Liverpool are now the only Premier League team who boast a 100 percent winning record after three encounters.
Klopp said after the triumph at Anfield;
It was all around a really good performance and Joel, for sure it was his best game of the season,
“People spoke about our defending. We work on our defending but not in the way people probably expected. It’s not about the last line; it’s a common thing, defending in the Premier League doesn’t work if you talk to [each individual player] and tell him, ‘We have to do this and that differently.’
“We worked really hard now on that, of course, like we always do but this week we had the time to do it. From a defending point of view, it was for sure the best game, against an incredible threat.”
Liverpool are yet to keep a clean sheet this season, but that will surely change soon. For now at least, Matip looks to have his regular starting spot back.