Wednesday 26 October 2016

Matip: 'I'm not afraid to play against the best'

Liverpool’s new defender Joel Matip tells Chris Bascombe he has no fears over facing Costa

Chris Bascombe

Published 16/09/2016 | 02:30

New recruit Joel Matip is keen to shine at Anfield this season (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
New recruit Joel Matip is keen to shine at Anfield this season (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Joel Matip faces the inevitable question about his impending confrontation with Diego Costa.

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Liverpool's new centre-back, however, is well briefed on the hostile history between both Costa and Liverpool players and the two clubs, with his manager Jurgen Klopp having just described the Chelsea striker as a "warrior".

And, though Matip is mild mannered and quietly spoken, he is quick to emphasise that he is no rookie ahead of the sides' encounter at Stamford Bridge this evening.

"If an opponent tries to talk to me during the game, really, I don't give a f***," he says. "They can say what they want.

"I don't think anyone is like Costa. You can play against players who like to make you uncomfortable, but not too many with his size or as famous as him.

"It is always a fight against these big teams and you have to take on the battle. You have to go in there and fight, there is nothing else. As a defender, that is something you like - to go out there and win the ball.

"But I don't prepare only for Costa. I prepare for the whole team. Maybe he will be my direct adversary and I will study to see how he moves. I have seen a lot of his games. But you can never prepare for one player out of 11.

"Against a more typical No 9, at least you know these players and how they play, and where they will be on the pitch. You know what is going to happen, even if it is still difficult to play against.

"Tactically, it is a very different problem to deal with than with some other players. There are players who try to say things in a game, but I never care about this.

"In six years in the Bundesliga, I had one red card - and then one red card in the Europa League, which was wiped out after. You can get emotional sometimes if there is a refereeing decision you do not like but it is not something I have had an issue with."

German-born Matip played in two World Cups for Cameroon - the country he adopted through his father - and has faced Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United in the Champions League. He reached the semi-final of the competition with Schalke in 2011.

"Chelsea was hard. We lost at Stamford Bridge - it was not a good experience - but the team has changed a lot since then. I don't see a similarity in this team on Friday," he said. "Also, it is always different when you play in a European game.

"In the Bundesliga, we would always have our eye on games in England - this hard, physical league - so it became a dream to play here.


"The moment was right when my contract at Schalke was running out. It was hard to leave them. It was like leaving my childhood behind.

"My school was 50 metres from the stadium. But I knew I was old enough and I had the experience, with six years playing in the Bundesliga. I was ready."

However intense it gets, Matip is prepared. He is one of the few who finds Klopp's arduous training regime restrained compared to the manager he is most grateful to, Felix Magath.

"Pre-season at Liverpool was hard - tougher than last season at Schalke - but nothing compared to Magath," said Matip. "Every coach I had after this, I would think 'no problem'.

"Magath was what you call 'old school'. His favourite thing was the medicine ball weighing up to 10 kilos.

"He loved to make you do everything with it - running, all the exercises. Everyone hated it, but it made us fit.

"But he is the coach I am most thankful to. He gave me my debut against Bayern Munich when I was 18. Between six and 18, I was a defender, but Magath said to try in midfield for my first game.

"I scored. I stayed midfield for two years. It helps to have played in midfield when you are passing out of defence. The football we play today, it is important you start the play from the back."

After six managers in six years at Schalke, Matip craves stability.

"You can compare Schalke a little to Liverpool," he says. "The supporters live for their club. It is an emotional pressure and demand for success, but, when it does not work, there are a lot of changes.

"That is difficult as a player. If you have one manager for a long time you can work on an idea."

Now Matip has an opportunity to establish himself alongside Dejan Lovren, compromising his international ambitions to do so.

He does not expect to play in the Africa Cup of Nations Cup this season.

"It is a long time until January, but that is the idea," he said. "Last year, I had injury problems. The extra games and travelling were going to make it harder for me.

"I had to listen to my body. I spoke with the Cameroon manager and he was not happy, but I have to do what is right to be 100pc."

Liverpool believe their free transfer is a coup. Should Matip acquit himself well against Costa, so will the rest of the country.

"I'm used to playing against these tough sides in Germany - Bayern, Dortmund - and I've played in the Champions League," says Matip. "I am not afraid of these games." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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