Klopp hopeful Liverpool can retain African stars for vital matches

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Jürgen Klopp has said he is optimistic Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané will be available for Liverpool’s trips to Leicester and Chelsea over the festive period after talks over delaying their departure to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Klopp hopeful Liverpool can retain African stars for vital matches
© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Peter Powell/AP

Liverpool have approached the Egyptian and Senegalese football associations over the possibility of their key forwards reporting late for a tournament scheduled to be held in Cameroon between 9 January and 6 February. The club are seeking a similar arrangement with Guinea over Naby Keïta.

According to Fifa regulations the trio should join up with their international teams after Liverpool’s Boxing Day game against Leeds. But with crucial visits to Leicester on 28 December and Chelsea on 2 January, Liverpool want their departures delayed. That would mean Salah, Mané and Keïta missing only two Premier League fixtures, at home to Brentford and away to Crystal Palace.

Related: Wolves v Liverpool: match preview

The Liverpool manager said: “It’s not decided yet. I am an optimistic person, so I hope so, but it’s not written in stone and not completely in our hands.”

Liverpool travel to Wolves on Saturday before visiting Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday when, with the group won, Klopp is likely to rotate. That could see Nat Phillips make his first start of the season and Klopp, who describes the defender’s lack of playing time as unfair, says the 24-year-old could move in January. But he was effusive in praise of a player instrumental in Liverpool qualifying for this season’s Champions League.

Klopp said: “People often ask me which player made the biggest improvements under my leadership and I say Robert Lewandowski. That’s probably right, but not far off that is Nat Phillips, just in a completely different department.

Klopp hopeful Liverpool can retain African stars for vital matches
© Provided by The Guardian Nathaniel Phillips (left) celebrates with Roberto Firmino after putting Liverpool 2-0 up at Burnley in May. Photograph: Gareth Copley/EPA

“I remember when I saw Nat Phillips first. I spoke to him after the game and he’s one of the smartest players I ever worked with. I told him: ‘You know you are not the easiest on the eye?’ But he improved in pretty much everything since, and he’s not playing. Life is sometimes not fair and I can’t blame him. We cannot keep him for ever, that’s clear. We needed him, just to be safe, for that half-year.

“We will see what happens in the window. He was fine doing it because he’s a great guy but his development is absolutely insane … I would sign him for any club except Liverpool because we have him.”

Klopp, meanwhile, believes this week’s appointment of the Brazil World Cup winner Claudio Taffarel as an extra goalkeeping coach will have a major impact on the career prospects of the club’s young talent.

“For the boys who are not involved on a weekend we can really work with them properly and consistently,” he said. “We thought somebody with their real own opinion would be good. We want to challenge ourselves and improve the goalies. We had to buy the best goalie in the world for big money [Alisson]. That should not happen that often any more. We invest a lot in scouting and youth, and I think we have in Marcelo [Pitaluga] and Harvey [Davies] incredible talents.”

Klopp hopeful Liverpool can retain African stars for vital matches
© Photograph: Peter Powell/AP Jürgen Klopp says Liverpool are in discussions to retain Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané for matches against Leicester and Chelsea.

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