Jurgen Klopp has praised underrated Liverpool defender Joel Matip for an impressive run of form following his recovery from injury trouble. The Cameroonian centre-back moved to Anfield on a free transfer in July after ending a lengthy 16-year stint with Bundesliga outfit Schalke, but was initially hampered by ankle pain suffered during a pre-season victory over Wigan Athletic.
Matip had already undergone a summer operation to remove an ankle screw from a previous procedure and, while he travelled on Liverpool's pre-season tour of the US, he was unable to take part in any friendlies and had to wait until the EFL Cup second-round thrashing of Burton Albion last month to make his competitive debut as Klopp initially opted for fellow new signing Ragnar Klavan as a partner for Dejan Lovren.
The 25-year-old has earned plaudits after an accomplished performances against Tottenham Hotspur and in back-to-back Premier League victories over Leicester City and Chelsea, with Reds legend John Aldridge describing him as "excellent" and "a gem".
BBC pundit Garth Crooks also recently hailed Matip's clever use of defensive "dark arts" to confidently shackle the considerable threat of Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. Klopp is evidently unsurprised by the swift impact of a player whose qualities he was only too aware of.
"First of all with Joel, if you had worked or lived in Germany then you would've known much more about him because for six years he was involved in one of the top teams in Germany, playing in each kind of competition and tournament," he was quoted as saying by Liverpool's official website at a press conference held before Tuesday night's (20 September) trip to Derby County. "It was pretty clear that it would make sense, if he's interested, to sign him. But then it was not the most easy start for him. He had this little surgery in the summer, and that wasn't without complications, it had a little infection, so he needed time.
"Then everybody could see in his first games... especially tall players like him, they need physical fitness and that wasn't possible after the break he had. It wasn't a slow start but it's a long-term project like with all of the players, so we needed to work on things and he needed to work on physical strength. There was never a doubt about his quality, it was clear that when he feels fit then he can really help us. That's what we can see at the moment. It's especially important because of the situation we have at centre-half, we have had some problems with injuries already, so it was really important that he could play."
In addition to his dominant recent displays, Matip has also pleased Liverpool supporters by suggesting that he is likely to forgo the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon in order to concentrate solely on Liverpool. Four-time winners Cameroon qualified for the competition by topping Group M ahead of Mauritania with four wins and two draws from six matches, although their 27-cap German-born defender, a veteran of two World Cup campaigns with the Indomitable Lions in South Africa and Brazil, has not played for Hugo Broos' side in over a year.