FC Schalke 04's Joel Matip is excelling at centre-back under Ralf Rangnick and, ahead of the second leg against FC Internazionale Milano, says he is enjoying life in his new position.
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Joel Matip may be just 19 but the towering FC Schalke 04 man is gaining experience to belie his years.
Having made his Bundesliga debut in November 2009, he won his first Cameroon cap in March 2010 and appeared once at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Then, after featuring mainly as a substitute in defensive midfield under ex-Schalke coach Felix Magath, Matip shone when used at centre-back by Ralf Rangnick in last week's 5-2 defeat of UEFA Champions League titleholders FC Internazionale Milano, which sets the German club up comfortably for Wednesday's home leg.
"I have played again from the start under the new coach and of course I am enjoying it, but I also have a lot to thank Felix Magath for," said Schalke youth product Matip, who also excelled in Saturday's 1-0 home win against Magath's latest club VfL Wolfsburg. "Ralf Rangnick lets me play, he talks to me and of course this helps. But both are great coaches."
On his change of position, the Bochum-born player, who has made 43 top-flight outings in total, added: "Recent matches have gone very well, we have worked well as a team, and that makes it easier. I like playing as a central defender, but I also feel good as a holding midfielder."
Rangnick, appointed on 17 March, is certainly delighted with Matip. "In my three games he has done very well, he is very focused," the coach said. "Of course, he is not free from mistakes, but that is normal for a young player. He has the necessary patience and knows how to handle the ball. By employing him and [Benedikt] Höwedes together with Kyriakos Papadopoulos [just in front] we were in total command in the air against Wolfsburg."
If Schalke's victory at Inter was quite an upset, Matip does not believe a semi-final against Manchester United FC or Chelsea FC is a done deal. "We have a nice advantage, but given the quality of the opposition we have to be prepared for everything," he said. "We do not want to hide. The starting position is different than before the first match, but we want to treat this one with the same determination and desire as we did in Milan, and with everyone helping their team-mates."
It will be a particularly special game for Matip given he is likely to be pitched directly against Cameroonian hero Samuel Eto'o. The teenager, capped seven times, explained: "Eto'o has helped me a lot in the national team, we have a special relationship, he is a great guy as well. I have to thank him for a lot. But if I start tomorrow, he will be just another opponent. I would fight him the same as I would every other Inter player."