Philippe Coutinho

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Liverpool’s Joel Matip: “I have no doubt about our way of playing”

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LIVERPOOL — Joel Matip is often a busy man in the heart of Liverpool’s defense.

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Yet, he certainly doesn’t resemble someone who is usually frantically scrambling to keep out opposition forwards.

Ahead of schedule for our chat he was relaxed as he leaned back in his chair at Liverpool’s Melwood training center, occasionally scratching his chin.

Part of a Liverpool team brimming with attacking talents and packed with goals from Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, defense is often an afterthought for the Reds.

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After conceding sloppy goals against Watford and Burnley in the Premier League this season, plus a demolition at Manchester City, a draw against Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League group stage and a defeat at Leicester City in the League Cup in midweek, many armchair analysts and pundits are calling for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp to alter his high-pressing approach and set up his defense differently.

You won’t find Matip doing that.

Quite clearly Liverpool’s most consistent defender since he arrived in the Premier League last summer, Matip doesn’t believe he and his teammates need to change to a more defensive style to keep winning games.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Matip was adamant that the players, both attackers and defenders, must stay true to themselves.

“Both parts only work together. I cannot stand at the back and our attackers go forward and there is so much big space. We all have to fit together. It is not always easy but this is our way of play but I think that is a good way of playing,” Matip said. “Everything has its positive and negative sides but I have no doubt about our way of playing.”

The 6-foot 5-inch center back arrived from Schalke on a free transfer last summer and has settled in impressively in his first 12 months in England, establishing himself as Liverpool’s first-choice center back.

His strong aerial ability and calmness to make key challenges and blocks around the box have particularly impressed.

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How does he assess their start to the season which sees them in eighth place in the Premier League after two wins, two draws and a defeat in their opening five games?

“We have had our good moments and also our not so good moments. We were punished for these and it was ruthless, the first few games, but we have to carry on,” Matip said. “I am not in doubt about the quality in our team and I am looking forward to the next game and I’m positive still.”

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That next game comes against Leicester, who beat Liverpool 2-0 to on Tuesday in the League Cup third round after Klopp made multiple changes to his starting lineup — including a rest for Matip and usual center back partner Dejan Lovren — and the Reds failed to take many clear cut chances (a reoccurring theme) in a first half they dominated.

Matip, a late injury concern ahead of the clash at the King Power Stadium, believes Liverpool can take plenty of positives from their defeat at Leicester earlier in the week.

“The game on Saturday will be a completely different game,” Matip said. “You cannot compare these two games. I think we did it very well in the first half [on Tuesday] and we will try to copy this, maybe with a bit more luck upfront, but we are in a good way if we score then keep a clean sheet and don’t concede many goals. I am looking forward to it and I think we can win.”

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Looking back at his first 12 months in England the German born defender, who represented Cameroon at international level from 2010-15, is enjoying life in the Premier League.

Smiling and laughing often as we chat at Melwood, the languid center back is in his full tracksuit and is getting ready for an afternoon training session ahead of the Leicester game.

“It was a long year but I enjoyed this year, with all the ups and downs. It is a pleasure and an honor to play for Liverpool in the Premier League,” Matip said. “I try to do my best and help all of my teammates and my teammates also help me, so we have to help each other. Everybody helps each other and that’s the only way to go.”

At Liverpool the weight of past success, particularly in Europe, often sits heavy with five European Cups in the trophy cabinet and the Reds now back in the Champions League for the first time since 2014.

Does extra pressure come from Liverpool’s illustrious history as the fans demand more success in Europe?

“I think pressure, that would not be right. There is an opportunity,” Matip said. “We worked hard for this opportunity. Pressure is the wrong word because Liverpool has this great past but we only try to do our best and use this opportunity and try to enjoy.”

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Special European nights at Anfield are something Matip clearly cherishes.

“They are tough games but everyone is happy we have the opportunity to play in the Champions League. Every football player wants to play in these games. It is always a special night [at Anfield] and always special to play against the biggest teams in Europe. These are special nights to play against these international teams and these are the nights when you are really small, what you dreamed of,” Matip added, smiling.

What has been the main difference of moving to the Premier League from the Bundesliga?

“Physically and sometimes the pace,” Matip said. “It’s going up and down, up and down. In Germany it is often a little more tactical I would say. It is not going down from the one goal to the other goal. That would be the main difference.”

Matip worked hard over the offseason to prepare his body for those differences and for his second grueling campaign in England.

He admitted he can improve in many areas and said it is “a pleasure” to work with Klopp who “tries to improve me every day” and is “enjoying” the experience of working for his countryman as he makes the necessary adjustments.

“For me it was really important to make the whole preparation. For me last season was not easy with all the injuries but injuries belong to football. You cannot always do something against that. I hope preparation will help me a lot to get a good fitness level but there are a lot of points to work hard on. I have to improve a lot of things. It would be better to list all the things I don’t have to improve!” Matip chuckled. “I don’t know things on this list. I have to improve at everything and get better to help the team.”

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In terms of how the team plays and how Klopp asked his defenders to defend, has Matip worked on positioning and other specifics since making the move to England?

“This depends on the way you play. When Klopp was a coach in Germany he also had his center backs to play in a similar ways. I would say psychically because you play against a striker who are really strong in the air and bring a lot of body weight into the game,” said Matip, laughing out loud. “Also the pace. If you go directly from offense to defense, offense to defense, that’s something different to get used to.”

Should Liverpool switch to a back three to give them extra numbers in central defense and in the central attacking areas?

“It is different but it is not all about the system. It is not always easy for us against deep, defending teams with many lads in the back,” Matip said. “Sometimes they manage really good but we are always trying and because of this, in the end, we will have the luck because we work really hard for this.”

Matip has always worked hard to reach the top but it certainly helped being from a soccer mad family as his father, Jean, was a footballer and his older brother, Marvin, still plays for Ingolstadt in Germany’s second-tier. His cousin is also Joseph-Desire Job, the former Middlesbrough striker, so soccer was always in his blood.

“My older brother was my biggest role model. He was a few years older and I always looked up to him. Our family growing up, there was a lot of football,” Matip smiled. “It is a pleasure but there was no pressure from my family. I could do anything I wanted and they always support me.”

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Matip’s parents are both qualified doctors and the German-born, Cameroon international gives thoughtful, insightful answers when considering questions.

He owes plenty to his education in both life and soccer via an esteemed academy at Schalke. He graduated from the now famous Gesamtschule Berger Feld school which has German internationals Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler, Manuel Neuer and Benedikt Howedes among their alumni.

“The school was not the only part. The work they did at Schalke at youth level, there was a brilliant coach at U-19, [Norbert] Elgert. Every former player if you call and ask about him would say he was a fantastic coach and is still a fantastic coach,” Matip said. “Everybody is really thankful for him and he did a great job with the connection with the school. Everything there was a good start for every football player.”

After leaving for a new experience and a new country Matip is settling into life in England’s north west. Last summer he moved away from home for the first time at the age of 25 and Matip is enjoying life on Merseyside. Even if he is yet to perfect his Scouse accent…

“I am still struggling with most of the dialect,” Matip laughed. “The language is not easy but you start talking and you are getting better and better. I am still fighting and when they use the Scouse accent I am always like ‘what!?’ I need one, two, three or maybe four tries to understand it but I am in a good way. Maybe it will take a while to understand the Scouse but I am still happy to be here.”

Always smiling, always peaceful, Matip is ready to continue leading Liverpool’s defense as they aim to win their first trophy in over five years.

“Of course, everyone wants to win trophies but this will not happen from one day to the other,” Matip said. “But we work hard to improve ourselves and achieve something.”

Liverpool 1-1 Burnley: Clarets frustrate Reds

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  • Liverpool earn 1000th PL point
  • Arfield scores from Wood
  • Can cues up Salah for fifth

Canadian national teamer Scott Arfield put Burnley ahead, and a Mohamed Salah goal was all Liverpool could muster in a disappointing 1-1 Saturday draw with the Clarets at Anfield.

Liverpool sits seventh with eight points, while Burnley is sixth with a one-goal advantage in goal differential.

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Liverpool was lively early, and Philippe Coutinho didn’t look bothered by his long lay off.

Salah came close to winning an 18th minute penalty off James Tarkowski, but the whistle did not arrive at Anfield.

Yet it was Burnley who went ahead, with Arfield running onto a Chris Wood flicked cross and hammering his shot past Simon Mignolet in the 28th minute. The defending was again primarily responsible for an opposition goal, with the center backs sucked to Wood.

The Reds were level through Salah within three minutes, as Emre Can opened the lid on Burnley’s back line and the Egyptian took the ball to his left before firing a low shot across his body and past Clarets’ backstop Nick Pope.

Would there be history for Burnley? The Clarets had not taken a point from Liverpool since returning to the PL.

Joel Matip saved a late chance from Burnley, and Mignolet made another stop.

Pope made a terrific save on Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Dominic Solanke cranked one off the bar from in-tight moments later.

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Tite selects blasts from past for Brazil roster

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Brazil manager Tite has picked his roster for a pair of qualifiers against Bolivia and Chile, and there are a few familiar names not heard from of late.

Most notably, 33-year-old Fred has been called in, his first call-up since the 2014 World Cup. Also brought in is 32-year-old Diego Tardelli, who has 14 career caps and last saw time in the 2015 Copa America. Tardelli is playing in China with Shandong Luneng. Tite also recalled another 32-year-old in Flamengo midfielder Diego, who has not seen the field for Brazil since 2008. Diego was called up back in March but was an unused substitute in both World Cup qualifiers.

26-year-old Danilo was also called in, after starting the season brightly for Manchester City. He has 16 previous caps for Brazil and one goal, and has started the Premier League season by appearing in all for City games, with one assist.

Not on the roster is Chelsea defender David Luiz, who has not played in a competitive match for Brazil since March of 2016. Neither was former Chelsea midfielder Oscar who has just returned from suspension with Chinese club SIPG. He has nine assists in 16 Chinese Super League appearances this season.

Brazil has already qualified for the 2018 World Cup, sitting 10 points above the rest of the table.

BRAZIL ROSTER

GK: Alisson (Roma), Cassio (Corinthians), Ederson (Manchester City).

DEF: Danilo (Manchester City), Miranda (Inter Milan), Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Daniel Alves (Paris Saint-Germain), Jemerson (Monaco), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Marcelo (Real Madrid).

MID: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Barcelona), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Willian (Chelsea), Arthur (Gremio), Diego (Flamego), Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk).

FWD: Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Neymar (PSG), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).

Liverpool concedes late to draw Sevilla 2-2

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  • Sevilla strikes first
  • Salah, Firmino score
  • Firmino misses PK
  • Correa equalizes, 72′

Liverpool’s defense conceded early in late, throwing away a 2-1 lead in a draw against Sevilla at Anfield in UEFA Champions League play on Wednesday.

Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah scored for the Reds, while Wissam Ben Yedder and Joaquin Correa netted for Sevilla. Joe Gomez was sent off late for Liverpool.

Philippe Coutinho made his season debut for Liverpool, tying him to Liverpool for the competition with a quarter-hour run. The Reds’ Joe Gomez was given a red card in stoppage time.

Sevilla’s next UCL match is home to Maribor on Sept. 26, while Liverpool travels to Russia for a date with Spartak Moscow. All teams are on a single point.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The Reds led 2-1 at the break, but not after going behind after  sloppy Dejan Lovren defense led to a goal from Ben Yedder.

Firmino leveled the score by poking home a square ball from Alberto Moreno.

Salah scored a deflected effort after stripping Steven N’Zonzi of the ball 25 yards out from goal.

Sadio Mane won a late half penalty for the Reds, but Firmino hit the post with his effort.

 

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Would that come back to haunt the Reds? Sure would, as moments after Georginio Wijnaldum saw a decent chance stopped, Sevilla made it 2-2.

Correa had an off-touch but had plenty of room as Liverpool’s defense parted for him with under 20 minutes to play.

The Reds brought on Coutinho, and then Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had a touch line argument with Sevilla staff after the final whistle in which he was filmed denying responsibility for Joe Gomez’s red card.

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Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Jurgen Klopp has never lost to Manchester City as Liverpool manager
  • Sergio Aguero needs 1 goal to become PL’s all-time non-European goalscorer
  • Aguero has scored in all 5 PL matches vs. Liverpool at the Etihad
  • Sadio Mane has scored in four consecutive PL matches

Two Champions League hopefuls square off at the Etihad on Saturday when Liverpool travels to Manchester to take on Pep Guardiola and Man City at 7:30 am E.T. live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Both teams have picked up two wins and a draw through three league games thus far, but both will be without players who have proven key in the past. Philippe Coutinho will miss out, Jurgen Klopp confirmed, as the Liverpool star returns to fitness after missing the first few league games towards the end of the transfer window. Klopp said Coutinho probably could have played off the substitutes bench, but that he preferred to rest him this week and then play the Brazilian in the starting lineup.

[MORE: Premier League stats ]

On the other side, Raheem Sterling is suspended for City after receiving his red card last time out for celebrating a winning goal with fans who had entered the pitch. Defender Vincent Kompany is also injured, as the Belgian continues to struggle with a myriad of injury problems that have plagued the most recent few years of his career.

One man who could feature is new Liverpool signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came to Liverpool on a permanent basis from Arsenal at the deadline, and has yet to play for the Reds.

What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola on playing Liverpool: “Every time I play Jurgen’s teams I learn a lot. Top manager, top club, top players. It will be a nice game tomorrow.”

Jurgen Klopp on his managing style: “I really am a relaxed person – the opposite of how I am during the game. It’s my job to be part of the game. You need to adapt as a player to my coaching style. Usually when a manager shouts as loud as I do, he’s angry – but I’m not angry, I’m just emotional and very loud!”

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Prediction

Both these teams are on attacking highs now, and both have occasionally shaky defenses, so this should be an incredibly entertaining match. Manchester City has the depth, while Liverpool has the form. At the moment, all things seem to cancel out, and the best bet is a high-flying 3-3 draw with plenty of entertainment. Look for goals!