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Can Arne Slot rely on Ibrahima Konate as a regular starter for Liverpool?

Ibrahima Konate‘s stock has fallen over the past year, with the Frenchman now facing a battle to stay Virgil van Dijk‘s regular centre-back partner.

The 25-year-old enjoyed a highly impressive first two years in Liverpool shirt, as one of Europe’s most imposing young central defenders.

While the 2023/24 season was expected to see Konate go up another gear, injuries and new competition are now clouding his role at Anfield.

Ibrahima Konate, 2023/24

BERGAMO, ITALY - Thursday, April 18, 2024: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté applauds the supporters after the UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg match between BC Atalanta and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 29 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 8
Unused sub: 13
Goals: 0
Assists: 1
Overall Season Rating: 6.57

 

Moments of brilliance, but ousted by Quansah

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 29, 2023: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When the new season began, there were few debates over who should be starting alongside Van Dijk, with Konate a fantastic option who plays regularly for a world-class France team.

Joel Matip‘s age and the creeping expiry of his contract would work against him, while Jarell Quansah remained an unknown to many.

Konate started well, with his pace and power always a great weapon to have, especially in a Liverpool side always willing to leave themselves open defensively.

His front-footed approach nicely complemented Van Dijk’s less aggressive style, and it looked as though Liverpool’s No. 5 was only getting better.

It didn’t even take until September for Konate to suffer his first injury, however, in what was a sign of things to come.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, April 4, 2024: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté goes down with an injury during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In fact, by the time November arrived, he had started just four games in the Premier League.

For much of the campaign, Konate was impressive when fit, not least in the win away to Arsenal in the FA Cup.

A month earlier, Konate was equally impressive in the 2-0 victory at Sheffield United in the league, winning an incredible 19 duels, beating Van Dijk’s previous season-high tally of 14 at home to West Ham.

As the campaign went on, however, there was a noticeable dip in Konate’s performance.

Sloppiness crept in on the ball, not to mention a penchant for being overly physical and conceding dangerous free-kicks.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 2, 2024: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté (L) and Kostas Tsimikas (R) arrive before the FA Premier League match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. Liverpool won 1-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jurgen Klopp then dropped Konate for his final month in charge, with Quansah deservedly ousting him from the starting lineup.

That would have seemed unthinkable back in August and it was a disappointing way for Konate’s season to end, as he played no part in Klopp’s farewell matches.

In fact, his final minutes of the season came in the woeful loss at Everton on April 24, producing a three-out-of-10 performance.

For the first time, there are long-term doubts over Konate, with fitness the main reason for that.

 

Injuries a big problem now

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté goes off with an injury during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool’s season was adversely affected by injuries – it’s a miracle that they remained in the title race for so long – and Konate was one of those who missed a chunk of action.

The former RB Leipzig man started only 17 of the Reds’ 38 league matches, which isn’t enough if you want to be the future leader of the defence.

Konate’s ability has long held him up as the natural heir to Van Dijk when the Liverpool captain eventually departs, but can Arne Slot rely on him moving forward?

The Frenchman’s inability to stay injury-free is becoming a real issue, with Klopp having to manage his minutes carefully.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, April 4, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Ibrahima Konaté during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This is through no fault of Konate’s, it should be stressed, and he will be more frustrated than anyone, but understandable concerns are creeping in.

According to Transfermarkt, he has now missed 89 matches in his career through injury, many of which have been muscle issues rather than impact injuries.

For a 25-year-old, that is alarming – and highlights the headache that Slot faces.

 

Extra gear needed, with fewer injuries

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo (L) celebrates with team-mate Ibrahima Konaté after scoring the third goal during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

On the face of it, Konate is a superb option for Slot when he comes in, still having his peak years ahead of him and possessing many great attributes.

Lightning-fast, strong in the tackle and good at bringing the ball out, he should be viewed as one of the Premier League‘s best defenders.

On his day, Konate is exactly that, but those days feel all too rare, in terms of him being at optimum fitness and in top form.

His injury-prone nature means that Slot must bring in at least one new centre-back, providing more cover if Konate faces further spells on the sidelines.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté (L) is replaced by substitute captain Virgil van Dijk during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There is no indication that Liverpool will give up on their No. 5, not least with reports of positive talks over a contract extension.

But the next 12 months almost feel like an audition for Konate, in terms of showing that he is the future boss of the defence and someone who can be relied upon.


Best moment: A Man of the Match showing at Arsenal in the FA Cup.

Worst moment: The injuries. Yet again.

Role next season: Key player, if fit.