Joel Matip and African Nations Cup quandary for Klopp and Liverpool
Injuries and the African Nations Cup look set to give Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp a selection headache in the final third of pitch this winter, and he could well be provided with another problem to address should defender Joel Matip end his international exile with Cameroon.
The Reds have known from the moment Sadio Mane signed on the dotted line in the summer that he would be competing with Senegal at the tournament, but with Matip it was a different story.
He previously stated he did not want to interrupt his first season at Anfield by playing at the AFCON, having not played for his country since September 2015.
However, Cameroon boss Hugo Broos has been trying to convince the centre-back to play for his side, with a source telling ESPN FC the pair held talks last week. The source added that it is up to Matip to decide whether he accepts the invitation to be a part of the preliminary 35-man squad, which is selected next week.
Liverpool have earned themselves many admirers throughout the opening months of the season due to the scintillating attacking displays that have kick-started a push for the Premier League title, with Mane, the injured Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino taking the majority of the limelight.
But quietly in the heart of Liverpool's back four, Matip is proving himself to be the shrewdest piece of transfer business done this summer. He has effortlessly slotted alongside Dejan Lovren in central defence following his free transfer from Bundesliga side Schalke.
There is no indication currently Matip intends to hook up with his national team, but if does go his absence will be sorely missed by Klopp and across the team.
Liverpool's defence has been much maligned this season -- partly due to the full-on attacking intent of the team -- but Matip has been the rock. The side's only two losses in the Premier League this season, at Burnley and Bournemouth, have come when the 25-year-old has been absent.
In the build up to Sunday's Bournemouth defeat, Klopp highlighted Liverpool's improvement as a defensive unit, but did not attribute it solely down to one player.
Regardless, Matip has been a welcome addition for Klopp, who let centre-halves Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure depart the club in the recent transfer window. His 6-foot-5 frame has added much-needed aerial presence to this Liverpool side -- none more when he delivered a towering header in the win over Crystal Palace back in October.
But Matip's defensive work and calming presence with the ball at his feet has been more impressive. Klopp, for once, has a settled central-defensive partnership, but losing Matip to the AFCON could leave him in short supply of those able to deputise.
Outcast defender Mamadou Sakho has no future at club, leaving the former Borussia Dortmund boss with only makeshift centre-back Lucas Leiva and €5 million summer signing Ragnar Klavan as options to replace Matip.
Klopp is not one for short-term fixes and has previously claimed he would much prefer to look within the youth set-up for those to step up. However, Sakho and Tiago Ilori -- who has only played three times for Liverpool since his £7m move in September 2013 -- currently occupy the centre-back spots in the Under-23s side.
Having already admitted he would be prepared to sign a winger in January with Mane at the AFCON and injuries mounting, Klopp may well be forced to dip into transfer market for another defender.
He signed Steven Caulker on loan from Championship side Queens Park Rangers as back up last January, with the defender only starting one game during his time on Merseyside.
Given the 2017 AFCON, which is being held in Gabon, only lasting just over a month, any new recruit would be solely be a fill-in option, as Caulker soon found out.
It may not be what Klopp would like to do, but it might just be necessary should Matip accept Broos' offer.
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.