Liverpool centre-back Ibrahima Konaté is enjoying a purple patch in front of goal, with three goals in his last three games for the reds.
With openers in an FA Cup Semi Final and both legs of a Champions League quarter final, the Frenchman is vying to be Virgil van Dijk’s first choice partner in defence.
Konaté has become a crucial cog in Jurgen Klopp’s winning machine and will appear more as Liverpool fight to win all four trophies available.
Name: Ibrahima Konaté
Position: Centre back
Country: France (Under-21, 13 caps)
Konaté was Liverpool’s only signing during last summer’s transfer window and a crucial one at that. By January of the previous season, the reds had no senior centre backs available due to horrendous injuries.
Therefore, the Parisian’s signature from RB Leipzig for £35m came with significant pressure. There was little knowledge as to how van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez would recover from long-term absences.
Konaté, of the highest rated young defenders in Europe, was expected to ensure that Liverpool’s season would not be derailed by another threadbare backline.
In actuality, van Dijk and Matip have recovered superbly from their absences, initially limiting his first team appearances.
His presence became much more noticeable across the winter period.
Konaté stepped up as Gomez picked up a calf injury and the reds’ fixtures went deep in cup competitions. Now, he is firmly third choice centre back ahead of the Englishman.
Given that Gomez was a core part of the 2019/20 title winning side, overtaking him in the pecking order is no mean feat.
Konaté has looked assured throughout his Liverpool career. Excellent in 1v1 battles, pacey and comfortable on the ball, he has all the qualities that Jurgen Klopp looks for in his defenders.
Furthermore, he is dominant in the air, as evidenced in his recent outings.
In the three games in which he has scored, all three have been headers from corners to give Liverpool the lead.
With a run in as demanding as Liverpool’s, breaking down teams from a set piece is an invaluable weapon.
These observations are backed up by the stats.
According to data from FBref.com studying his Premier League appearances, Konaté wins 2.63 interceptions per 90 as well as 78% of his ariel duels. These numbers are some of the highest amongst comparable Premier League defenders.
There have been some moments of sloppiness, particularly against Benfica where the Parisian’s mistimed clearance led to their only goal in the first leg.
However, what he has lacked in these moments he has made up for in confidence.
He has never looked daunted by the expectations of playing for one of Europe’s best sides.
Making only his second Premier League appearance against Manchester United, Konaté laughed in midfielder Fred’s face during a confrontation as Liverpool won 5-0 at Old Trafford.
Things to know
Konaté is captain of France’s u21 side, regularly featuring alongside his former Leipzig teammate Dayot Upamecano at the heart of defence.
What Liverpool think
“These two are gonna take my place at one point.” – Virgil van Dijk, referring to Konaté and Gomez eventually replacing him as Liverpool’s first choice centre backs.
“He played games pretty early for us and I think we all agree he is an exceptional talent: physically outstanding, good footballer as well.” – Jurgen Klopp.
Image credit This is anfield