The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Liverpool-linked Ibrahima Konate and how he can fit into the scheme of things at Anfield next season.
Liverpool’s preparation for the new season is going to play an important in the club’s long-term future as they look to keep up with Manchester City, following a disastrous title defence campaign. Fortunately for the fans, it seems the Merseyside giants are already scouring the market for potential options, with recent reports suggesting a move for Ibrahima Konate.
The Reds have reportedly reached a verbal agreement with RB Leipzig over the transfer and the deal could be finalized before the end of the season, making him the club’s first acquisition for the new season. Konate’s arrival at Anfield could certainly supplement a defensive unit that has struggled with injuries this season.
Having said that, here at The Hard Tackle, we will take a deep dive towards Konate’s prospects at Anfield and he can bring to the table for Jurgen Klopp, aside from the obvious depth in quality.
An alternative for Upamecano?
RB Leipzig have had immense success with the defensive partnership of Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano over the past few years. The two players are considered among the top defenders in the Bundesliga, helping Die Roten Bullen become Bayern Munich’s primary competitor in recent years.
Their performances have also led to a sort of tension when it comes to attention from Europe, with Upamecano often being framed as the better option. The former Valenciennes youth prodigy has been linked with a move to Premier League for few years now. And following his decision to join Bayern Munich in the summer, one could assume that Konate is being courted as a mere alternative for his French compatriot.
However, it is fair to point out that some experts in the Bundesliga do actually favour Konate as he is more physically imposing and far more superior in the air. While the two players do resemble quite a lot in terms of gameplay, Upamecano’s 1.86m figure, though quite ideal, pales in comparison to Konate’s massive 1.94m frame that has helped him won 1.8 aerial duels per game this season.
Although Upamecano (2.4) has won more in terms of sheer value, his defensive partner harbours a much better win percentage of 85%. Aside from aerial prowess, Upamecano does tend to take a lot of risks with respect to his defensive positioning. It makes him better suited to Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing system.
Konate, in comparison, does like to press the ball-carrier upon receiving a pass, but he is more balanced when it comes to such aggression. The Frenchman, though, has deceptive pace, although his teammate and compatriot is certainly faster, thanks in part a relatively lower centre of gravity.
Konate can, however, be deemed as a better ball-carrier and has the quality to break in between the lines. He is also a bigger threat from set-pieces, which is coupled with the immense physical prowess that makes it almost impossible for attackers to win one-on-one duels.
Overall, it is perhaps fair to describe Konate as more of a taller, stronger alternative for Upamecano, which comes at the expense of a slightly slower pace and dynamism, although both the players are still good enough to be deemed as two of the best young defenders in Europe.
How does he stack up at Liverpool?
In order to analyse how Ibrahima Konate could fit in at Anfield, it is fair to profile Liverpool’s current options at centre-back, apart from Virgil van Dijk, who remains a guaranteed starter whenever he is back to full fitness.
Joe Gomez has typically been considered as the main defensive partner for the Dutchman. However, the youngster had a poor start to the season, followed by an injury. His lack of concentration on the ball was also noticeable during the early stages of the season, drawing question marks over his capability of competing with Konate.
Nathaniel Phillips has had a swift rise to prominence in the midst of an injury crisis for Liverpool. The youngster has moved ahead of Rhys Williams and Ben Davies in the pecking order, often partnering Ozan Kabak at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Phillips, though, still has a lot to learn, which leaves Kabak as the only remaining competitor for Konate, apart from the experienced Joel Matip.
In fact, Liverpool’s pursuit of Konate will likely hinge on whether or not they choose to retain the services of Kabak beyond this summer, although there is a chance that the Reds may get both, especially after FC Schalke inevitable relegation this season that could force the Royal Blues to offload their star player for a cut-price fee.
As far as a direct comparison is concerned, Konate certainly is the better option as he is far more superior in possession, combined with his imposing presence and tactical awareness. The only downside, however, will be the Frenchman’s injury-prone nature, giving Kabak the upper hand.
A long-term solution for Jurgen Klopp?
With Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip set to turn 30 later this year, Liverpool need to start looking into the future and that is where the acquisition of a smart, technical and physically astute defender like Ibrahima Konate could make a world of sense.
At the age of just 21, the Frenchman has the composure beyond his age while he has also notched up 90 competitive appearances for RB Leipzig. It makes him an ideal long-term role model for Liverpool – someone who can become the face of the club’s backline in the years to come.
It is hard to predict whether or not Konate can emulate van Dijk and become one of the world’s best centre-backs, but the former Sochaux prodigy certainly shares similar characteristics and strengths as the Dutchman.
Liverpool, though, will once again need to be aware of Konate’s poor injury record. It may not only stifle his progress at Anfield but also make him a risky option at €40 million, especially considering the current financial climate. Therefore, it will be interesting to see whether the Reds entertain other options this summer, in Jurgen Klopp’s bid to reinforce the central defensive unit in the summer.
Leicester City star man Caglar Soyuncu has emerged as one of the options linked with a move to Anfield in the summer. The Turkish international, though, is set to cost a fortune, even though he is a far less risky an option when compared to someone like Konate.