A rather stunning statistic made the rounds after Liverpool's injury time defeat at Bournemouth last Sunday; in the 11 games Joël Matip has started for the Reds this year, they have conceded 9 goals, and in the 3 games he has been unavailable, they have conceded a further 9 goals. For those keeping score, that's a drop-off from conceding 0.82 goals per game when the Cameroonian is starting, to conceding 3 goals per game when he's not. That Burnley and Bournemouth accounted for two thirds of those goals does not make the math look any better.
Naturally, it's not as simple as adding or subtracting Matip - the Arsenal, Burnley and Bournemouth matches were all oddities with serious game-state factors to consider - but there can be little doubt that the defense in general - and Dejan Lovren in particular - has looked calmer and sturdier when the former Schalke man has featured, and the opposite when he has not. Thus, the looming shadow of the upcoming African Cup of Nations - already guaranteed to rob the Reds of top goal scorer Sadio Mané - has Liverpool fans side-eyeing January and the Cameroonian national team.
Good job, then, that the 25-year old has reassured his manager that he will not be traveling to Gabon at the turn of the year, choosing instead to prioritise his role at Liverpool. The competition runs from January 14th till February 5th, and with players expected to travel with their national sides ten days or so in advance, would see Liverpool's African contingent miss four Premier League matches - including clashes with Manchester United and Chelsea - the two-legged EFL Cup semifinal against Southampton, as well as the fourth round of the FA Cup. These are matches that can make or break the season, and the Reds will want to be at full strength for all of them.
The loss of Mané still hurts, naturally, but having Matip's lanky composure, precise passing, and aerial prowess around should mitigate the pain somewhat.