Joel Matip v Romelu Lukaku: The key battle in Liverpool v Man Utd

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Joel Matip v Romelu Lukaku: The key battle in Liverpool v Man Utd

Will Man Utd star Romelu Lukaku get the better of Liverpool’s Joel Matip on Saturday?

The Premier League returns in emphatic fashion on Saturday lunchtime with a heavyweight clash between Liverpool and Manchester United.

For the home side to find success, Liverpool’s inconsistent defence, led by Joel Matip, must find a way of containing a red-hot Romelu Lukaku.

Matip is the only regular starter in Liverpool’s defence to have been signed by Jurgen Klopp, which is peculiar given the way the manager’s attacking system can often expose his defenders. The Cameroon international is better suited to cope with this approach than many of his colleagues, and plays an important role.

He is particularly skilled in one-on-one situations, which is an essential trait for any defender playing under Klopp. He was dribbled past just six times last season, while every other Liverpool player to make 40 or more tackles was beaten at least three times as much.

Another strong part of Matip’s game is his ability to premeditate attacking movement. While it was not on show for Liverpool’s recent goal conceded against Newcastle, he is often able to read forwards and react ahead of the pass, highlighted by his high interception count (19) – Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal is the only Premier League defender with more this season.

Matip leads the way as Liverpool’s busiest defender by some margin, compiling a larger combined total of tackles, interceptions, clearances and blocks per 90 minutes – a return which will need to swell further to suppress Lukaku.

The Belgium international has been in rampant form since moving to Old Trafford this summer. He’s the division’s top scorer with seven goals, and despite boasting a talented list of attacking luminaries, no Manchester United striker has scored more Premier League goals in his first seven games for the club.

Unsurprisingly, Lukaku’s attacking stats rank alongside the best this season in many categories. Tottenham’s Harry Kane is the only player to test opposing goalkeepers more often, while Kane and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero are the only strikers with more touches in the opposition’s box.It’s easy to draw conclusions about Lukaku finding another level at his new club, though it’s interesting to note his chance conversion rate is almost identical to his final year at Everton. The Belgium striker still needs around four-and-a-half shots to score, just as he did last season, albeit in a relatively small sample size so far.

The key to his early success at Old Trafford, therefore, seems to owe more to his supporting cast than any individual growth. Playing in a more attacking team with more creative threats, Lukaku has been presented with far more opportunities to find the net. He’s currently enjoying an increased shot volume of almost 50 per cent per 90 minutes, which – if maintained – should see him surpass last season’s return of 25 Premier League goals.

Perhaps the only remaining narrative for Lukaku to quash relates to his often inconspicuous presence in bigger games at Everton, further emphasised by his performances against Liverpool. In his last appearance, his only previous game against Matip, he failed to record a single shot in 90 minutes – something he’s done only five times in his last 86 Premier League appearances, twice against Liverpool.

In fact, despite averaging an attempt every 27 minutes over the last three seasons, Lukaku’s currently on a remarkable run of no shot in his last 204 minutes played at Anfield. Going back further, he has only managed to test the opposing goalkeeper with a shot on target in two of his last seven appearances against Liverpool.

This may encourage Matip ahead of Saturday, but Lukaku’s new surroundings make him far more of a factor in the final third than he’s previously been at Anfield.

His new club are currently on a six-match unbeaten run against Liverpool, and with a more constant supply of chances coming his way, Lukaku will be confident of playing a key role in extending that recent streak.