Joel Matip deserves nothing but love after cruel twist of fate

Did it really have to be Joel Matip who suffered that cruel twist of fate?

Nice guys really do finish last.

Liverpool’s agonising 2-1 defeat at Tottenham on Saturday night was as cruel a loss as the Reds have experienced in recent memory – one that left us all feeling so robbed that you wondered if following football was even worth persevering with.

Champions League final losses have arguably not felt as dispiriting and unjust as this one.

The level of incompetence on show from Simon Hooper and his fellow officials was beyond staggering, and between them, they cost the Reds dearly.

READ MORE: Mark Clattenburg suggests UAE trip could have impacted VAR officials performance for Tottenham debacle

Who knows how fatal their many mistakes could be once the end of the season arrives, whether that's in the title race or the top-four tussle, but it was the latest show of ineptitude by a collection of officials who have never been worse in this country.

The final act of this heartbreaking night belonged to Matip, however, whose shanked attempted clearance flew past Alisson in the dying seconds to deprive his team of one of the most spirited points you could ever wish to see.

The look on his face was tough to watch, as was the sight of his teammates sprawled out on the floor around him after giving every last ounce of energy, and it was a reminder of how cruel this game can be at its worst moments.

What makes it even harder to stomach is that Matip couldn’t have deserved it any less, at a time when he has become a more criticised and divisive figure than in the past.

Last season, he was all over the place at times, with shambolic performances away to Brighton and Wolves standing out, and plenty of supporters wouldn’t have grumbled if he had been sold in the summer.

Instead, Matip stayed put, though, and what we have seen so far this season is a player who has overcome his slump and performed admirably.

With Ibrahima Konate out injured for much of the campaign to date, Liverpool’s likeable number 32 has been drafted in, starting five Premier League matches and producing one of his best runs in the team for some time.

Only Virgil van Dijk (4.0) has averaged more aerial duel wins per game than Matip (3.0), and the same applies to clearances, with the latter's tally of 4.8 per match only bettered by his teammate’s total of 5.8.

Joel Matip, ProsShots

The former Cameroon international has shone numerous times, including in the home wins over Aston Villa and West Ham, but he left his best performance for Saturday’s trip to Spurs.

In extremely tough circumstances, Matip stood as tall as anyone, making countless key interceptions and clearances, and even bringing the ball out from the back in admirably brave fashion, even when Liverpool only had nine men.

He and Van Dijk were colossal together at the back – in truth, everyone left on that pitch at the end should have felt nothing but pride, even though they were clearly devastated – and he was so close to completing a near-perfect display.

As for the own goal that undid all of Liverpool’s hard work, what can you say about it?

The brutal truth is that it was poor from Matip, who got himself in a mess to the point that he sliced into his own net off his shin, with the magnitude and pressure of the moment arguably getting to him.

We are constantly being told that those in charge of VAR should be let off the hook because they are human beings who make mistakes, but their errors have become unforgivable at this point.

READ MORE: Every contentious decision in Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to Tottenham – ranked

Matip here was a far better example of human error, and how even elite-level footballers can do thing disastrous things from time to time, and he will know more than anyone that his own goal was more than avoidable.

What this shouldn’t do is cloud how exceptional the centre-back was at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, however, in a modern age when so much post-match reaction is defined by the result.

This was the Matip of 2017-2020, who played such a massive role in Liverpool becoming champions of both Europe and England, and one horrible moment should not change that.

There have been few funnier, more lovable players to have represented the Reds in the Jurgen Klopp era and he will be hurting so much after letting down his teammates and the many millions of fans watching around the world.

On the plus side, what this season has shown is that Matip remains a reliable option for Liverpool again, having overcome his woes from last season, when he was admittedly part of a team playing with no confidence and too many ageing players.

Konate remains Van Dijk's best centre-back partner, and Joe Gomez possesses more speed, but it isn't a concern to see his name on the starting lineup in the way it was as recently as last season.

© Proshots - Joel Matip

Matip is out of contract at Anfield at the end of the season, at which point a key decision will have to be made about his future.

There is the option of extending his stay, should he continue to impress – his experience and popularity remain underrated weapons in his armoury – or he will leave on a free transfer, bringing an end to eight years at the club.

The current evidence suggests that the first option is the more preferable, in what has been a pleasing return to form for a universally loved character.

Hopefully, the Spurs incident doesn't rock his confidence to the point that his form now drops off, because he has been fantastic throughout this season, showing that he still has a big part of play.

Next time it happens, can it please be to someone like Bruno Fernandes instead?

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