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Celebrating Big Joel Matip – the unlikely hero in the title race

He shouldn't really be involved at all, but he's more than stepped up to the challenge

Remember Slender Man? That pretty disturbing game you and your mates used to play fully intoxicated after a night out at uni?

Some leggy ghoul suited up, lurking behind you preparing to pounce at every turn.

I realise if you have no idea what I’m talking about this analogy is fairly redundant, but if you do here’s my point – Joel Matip is the footballing version of Slender Man.

Big Joel

AP:Associated Press
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Big Joel

Liverpool’s wholly underrated centre-back is all limbs and utterly ungainly but it works. He’s become an attackers’ worst nightmare.

The Reds were almost impregnable at the back with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez in tandem, conceding just six league goals before the latter broke his leg at Burnley on December.

With Gomez in such electric form, Matip had some serious shoes to fill.

Yeah, it hurts

Reuters
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Yeah, it hurts

But in nearly five months the gangling Cameroonian has barely put a foot wrong and developed into an unlikely Kop Idol.

At 6ft4 he’s imperious in the air while he is also one of the most progressive centre backs in the division, constantly breaking the lines with imaginative forward passes.

Then there’s Matip’s pièce de résistance, his signature move.

For a man who looks a bit like Mr Tickle from the Mr Men franchise, he’s surprisingly nimble and reliable.

And Matip doesn’t half like an adventure, regularly going on idiosyncratic rampaging runs forward to join up with Liverpool’s famed front three.

With the Reds’ midfield guilty of lacking oomph this season, Matip, of all people, has occasionally taken creative proceedings into his own hands.

Off on another adventure

AP:Associated Press
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Off on another adventure

After collecting the Man of the Match award at Cardiff a couple of weeks ago, Matip was rested before the Champions League clash with Barcelona as a true indication of his growing importance.

Then, in the Camp Nou cauldron, he handled the challenge better than Van Dijk, saving further damage with a momentous last-ditch block on Luis Suarez.

The league’s best defender and Virgil van Dijk

AFP or licensors
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The league’s best defender and Virgil van Dijk

VVD oozes class and his composure seems to have seeped through to his centre-back partners, almost by osmosis.

Matip is making it increasingly difficult for Gomez to make a seamless return to the starting line up and is a shining example of the value you can still find in free transfers.

He might not look like a footballer, but I can assure you he is… and a bloody good one at that.

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