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Ibrahima Konate – Lowdown on Liverpool’s new centre-back

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Liverpool have finalised a deal for centre-back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig. We take a closer look at the Frenchman.

A reported £36 million release clause has Konate confirmed as the first new signing of the summer, with Jurgen Klopp explaining: “After the problems we had with injuries in the centre-half position last season, there’s no doubt it was clear it was an area of the team we needed to strengthen.”

Konate is highly-rated, that’s clear, and his age and main qualities certainly fit the profile of player Liverpool want to bring to Anfield.

He’s 21, he’s 6ft 4, he’s quick, he’s very good in the air, he’s a right-sided centre-back, and he had a release clause which made him very attainable.

Want more? Read on!


Who is he?

Born in Paris, of Malian descent, Konate moved from Sochaux to RB Leipzig in 2017, aged just 18.

Klopp claims that Konate “is someone I’ve admired for a long time, ever since I first became aware of his potential when he was at Sochaux.”

Known as ‘Ibu’ by teammates, he has been said to be high among Liverpool‘s targets at centre-back for some time. A move may have even happened in January had the two teams not met in the Champions League.

For his age, he has vast experience in Europe’s top competition, and is extremely highly rated. The general view is that he is raw but with very high potential. He’s previously been linked with Real Madrid and Man United, among others.

He’s a right-footed, predominantly right-sided centre-back, who enjoys bringing the ball out from the back – which sounds ideal!

Konate is yet to make his full French debut but is a regular at the under-21 level. He’s currently away with France for the Euro Under-21s knockout stages.


What are his strengths?

Ibrahima Konate (Fra) FOOTBALL : France espoirs vs Republique Tcheque - 09/09/2019 JBAutissier/Panoramic.

At 6ft 4, he’s incredibly good in the air, with a good leap and his height making for almost Van Dijk-like aerial prowess.

He also has good pace – which, as we have seen this season, is absolutely crucial for Liverpool‘s overall system to work for the Reds’ use of a high defensive line (and also why Liverpool needed to sign a new centre-back with these qualities this summer).

“His physical attributes are very impressive; he is quick, he is very strong and he is dominant in the air,” says Klopp.

When it comes to duels (tackling, dribbling, headers) he is ‘Like Joe Gomez, but better’ according to data put together by the Athletic.

One of his major strengths is his comfort in dribbling the ball out from the back, considered “better than any of Liverpool‘s current options” in the position in one-on-one situations.


And where he needs to improve?

In an in-depth scout report, Tom Worville writes that Konate’s “ability to retain possession leaves a lot to be desired.” So that’s clearly an area he needs to improve.

But at age 21, it’s certainly something that can be coached and improved. It isn’t a fundamental flaw, that’s for sure.

He’ll need to improve his long-range passing, which Liverpool‘s centre-backs utilise to break teams down and switch play.

It should be noted, though, that his passing style could be partly due to what he’s being asked to do at Leipzig, with his ability to dribble the ball out from the back being a tactic to invite the press from opponents.


How much did he cost?

02 October 2019, Saxony, Leipzig: Soccer: Champions League, Group phase, Group G, 2nd matchday RB Leipzig - Olympique Lyon in the Red Bull Arena. Leipzig's player Ibrahima Konate on the ball. Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa

Konate signed a new deal with Leipzig in 2019, which expires in 2023, but crucially had a €41 million (£36m) release clause – which is what Liverpool have activated.

It makes him a very attainable prospect given his undoubted ability and potential.


How come he didn’t play against Liverpool in Champions League?

He was returning from an ankle injury suffered in December which saw him sidelined for seven games.

He was an unused sub in both games against Liverpool, and in between had made three sub appearances in the Bundesliga.

Before that, he’d played in all of Leipzig’s Champions League group games, including against PSG and Man United.

More recently, he was eased back into the Leipzig side, playing 90 minutes vs. Werder Bremen in April – his first full 90 since December, before his injury.


So you’re telling me he’s injury prone?

Well, not quite, the key difference here is ‘injured’ or ‘injury prone’ — the latter being more what Joel Matip is.

Konate has had two injuries in the last two seasons – one which was a serious injury that kept him out for almost a full season. Whereas a player like Matip has had constant small injuries one after another.

Injuries happen, you wouldn’t see many clubs turn down the chance to sign Virgil van Dijk because he’s been injured this season.


What does it mean for the other centre-backs?

MADRID, SPAIN - SATURDAY, JUNE 1, 2019: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk collapses to the pitch at the final whistle as team-mates Joel Matip and Joe Gomez embrace him as they celebrate a 2-0 victory in the UEFA Champions League Final match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Metropolitano. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

You’re probably looking at four main centre-back options for next season: Konate, Van Dijk, Gomez, plus Matip.

You have to remember that Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip are all returning from long injury lay-offs and won’t be returning to play every game, particularly in the case of Gomez.

It could be a very stop-start season for either or both of Gomez and Van Dijk, while it wouldn’t be a surprise if Matip was moved on if the right bid came in – if not, he’s an ideal utility backup centre-back.

Nat Phillips may have enjoyed a cult-like emergence of late, but pragmatically speaking he isn’t part of the long-term picture.

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