Phil Thompson: Joel Matip improves Dejan Lovren in Liverpool's defence
Last Updated: 19/12/16 7:01pm
Joel Matip's presence in the Liverpool defence has boosted the performances of Dejan Lovren, according to Sky Sports pundit Phil Thompson.
Liverpool have not lost this season when Matip has featured, winning 10 of the 14 matches when the Cameroonian has started at centre-back.
The 25-year-old faces a late fitness test ahead of Mersey Monday, live on Sky Sports 1 HD, in what would be his first experience of the Liverpool-Everton derby after arriving from Schalke in the summer.
Thompson praised the influence of Matip, highlighting the impact his ability has on Lovren and the rest of the Liverpool defence.
"Matip has had a fantastic first season. I've been very impressed," Thompson said. "I thought it would have taken him a little bit of time to settle, but he has been absolutely terrific.
"People have often complained that the back four of Liverpool is where it has been weak, but their defence has been quite excellent.
"[Nathaniel] Clyne has been good, Lovren has had a really good season, [James] Milner is always terrific and Matip has just slotted in.
"He has helped Lovren get better. Getting used to the different goalkeepers has been a difficult part, but as a unit they have been great - and that is mainly down to Matip, apart from the game against West Ham."
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Jurgen Klopp capitalised on his own knowledge of the Bundesliga to bring Matip to Anfield on a free transfer.
"I am very happy. Everybody who knows him would have been interested. Maybe he's not the most famous player in England, but he's 24 and has played about 200 Bundesliga games for Schalke."
Klopp upon signing Matip back in February
Despite acknowledging the mistake against West Ham which led to Michail Antonio's goal last Sunday, Thompson was keen to name the positives that the defender has brought to the Liverpool side.
"He's very good in the air and passes the ball cleanly, safely from the back and doesn't make too many mistakes," Thompson added.
"But obviously we can highlight the West Ham one. But throughout most of the season so far, he hasn't been accident prone.
"One of thing big things he's brought to the side is pace. If you've got pace then you have always have someone to cover if there's a mistake - particularly with your fellow centre-back.
"And he is quicker than Lovren, and that makes him feel a lot more comfortable in his positional play."
Liverpool have a rich history of quality centre-backs, with Thompson himself an integral part of the Reds side which won three European Cups and seven First Division titles in the 1970s and early 80s.
Since Jamie Carragher retired in 2013, the Reds have struggled to find a settled centre-back pairing but Thompson thinks Matip has a long-term future at Anfield.
"He can become very good - as he still has a lot to learn," said Thompson. "People can be very critical of quick centre-backs and say their positioning isn't great as their speed gets them out of trouble.
"And Matip's positional play could be better. He could be a bit tougher, but he is a tremendous prospect.
"If he beds himself down in this side, I think he will be here for a good few years to come."