WHO IS LIVERPOOL'S NUMBER 1 SUMMER TARGET IBRAHIMA KONATE?
It has looked likely for a while now that RB Leipzig centre back Ibrahima Konaté is set to join Liverpool in the summer transfer window. The Frenchman is available to speak with other clubs if his release clause of €40m is activated, and reports from French, German and English media have all reported that a deal is “done” or that a deal is “close”.
Konaté is one of the most sought-after centre backs in Europe due to the talent he has shown in some of his impressive displays for both Leipzig and France U21s. An obvious talent and it’s no surprise Liverpool are interested in him, but does a deal make sense?
Who is Ibrahima Konaté?
Konaté is a 21-year-old French centre back for RB Leipzig. He’s a French U21 international and has played 12 times for Les Bleus U21 squad. Ibrahima learnt his trade coming through the youth ranks at one of the best academies in France with Sochaux, before making his breakthrough to the first team in the 2016/17 season making 13 appearances in all competitions. He made his professional debut at the age of 17 playing in a 1-0 defeat against Auxerre.
Leipzig have a reputation of signing young players and turning them into top class talents, and they were obviously impressed with the former Sochaux man acting quickly to sign him on a free transfer with a host of other clubs looking to acquire his services despite only one year of top flight experience. Leipzig believed in his ability and gave him regular chances in the first team straight away with him playing 20 times in all competitions and accumulating an impressive 1,500 minutes of play time. He was a mainstay for Die Rotten Bullen in the 18/19 season too; the 21-year-old played an impressive 43 times in all competitions managing 3 goals and stating himself as one of the most promising defensive talents in Europe.
He’s struggled with injuries over his last two seasons and appearances haven’t been as frequent but when he has been available for selection, he has been an important cog in the Leipzig system. He could win his first major honour in football this season, with Leipzig reaching the DFB Pokal final recently.
It has been no secret that Liverpool have suffered with injuries at centre back this season, with Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all suffering with season ending injuries and only playing 22 Premier League games between the 3 of them. This has caused a debate among the Reds’ fan base that is there a need for a new centre back with all 3 senior players suffering with injury and there being a failure to replace Dejan Lovren in the summer transfer window when he departed for Zenit.
This defensive injury crisis has seen some unorthodox partnerships feature for the Premier League champions with midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho both featuring there at length. These injuries have seen 19 different partnerships for the Reds. The defensive injury problems have been a glaring hole in Liverpool’s season with younger centre backs Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams being handed senior roles too. Liverpool bolstered their ranks in January for the second half of the season with Ozan Kabak joining on loan from Schalke; the Turkish international has impressed in his short time at Anfield and could be signed on a permanent for £18 million this summer. This ravaging record of injuries for Matip has seen calls for the Cameroonian to be sold because of continuous injury issues and a real quality centre back to be signed in his place who could feature at the back for the Reds for a long time to come - this man looks to be Ibrahima Konaté.
‘He’s better than Upamecano’
Reliable journalist, Fabrizio Romano reported, when saying that a deal between Liverpool and Leipzig is close, that Liverpool’s scouting department were convinced “He could be better than Upamecano”. Dayot Upamecano is another talented French centre back who plays for RB Leipzig and has been on the list of targets for lots of clubs among Europe’s elite and ultimately Bayern Munich were quickest to his signature.
Konaté has almost gone unnoticed in the transfer rumour mill with Upamecano stealing all the headlines, however, if Liverpool officials feel he is the better of the two and therefore the better signing that shows he’s obviously rated. The French U21 international has shown real promise in his 107 games of professional football for both Leipzig and Sochaux, and to be branded as a better talent than the most wanted young centre back in Europe shows Liverpool believe he is the man to bolster their defensive ranks.
Konaté’s injury problems
The Frenchman has struggled with injuries in the last couple of years, spending more time on the side-lines than actually on the pitch. In the 19/20 season, he spent 225 days out with torn muscle fibre and missed 27 matches as a result. At the start of this season, he spent a further 96 days on the injury table, however, this time he only missed 6 games as the injury took place at the end of the pandemic prolonged Bundesliga season and stretched through pre-season. As mentioned previously, Liverpool already have an extensive injury list at centre back so some fans may be wondering why the club would sanction a move for a defender who has missed almost a year of action over the last 2 seasons.
When you look at the Paris-born defender’s style, he would seem a perfect fit for the Reds. Konaté likes to come out of defence to progress play forwards; not being afraid to dribble from the defence, this gives him the opportunity to pick out more advanced passes than most of his peers in Europe who aren’t as brave and progressive on the ball as the Frenchman. This willingness to dribble and progress the ball forwards is shown with his 0.81 dribbles per 90 and his 4.4 progressive carries per 90, large numbers for a centre back.
He’s also imperious in the air too and dangerous from a set piece. The Frenchman wins 3.37 aerial duels per 90 and has scored 1 goal from a set piece this season despite only playing 13 times for Leipzig. At 21, he still has lots of developing to do but the key areas and strengths that he possesses are all key areas and aspects that Liverpool prioritise within their tactical set up. For example, progressive runs and dribbling from the back are a key part of what has made Liverpool so successful in recent years with Matip’s and Gomez’s marauding runs from defence being a key factor in their ability to get the ball up the pitch. With these kind of abilities within Konaté’s arsenal, interest from Anfield make perfect sense.
Konaté is a top talent and in what is a hard market to operate in at present in the post covid world of football, he looks to be good value for money at €40m. His injury record is a slight issue, rightly so, especially with the problems that Liverpool have had with injuries in this position. However, the talent and tactical suitability is definitely there. With a good pre-season behind him and a careful integration into the squad, the French U21 international could just end up being a steal for someone who is expected to become one of the best centre backs in Europe.