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Ibrahima Konate: Liverpool’s defensive giant lighting the pathway from squad member to starter



There’s nothing new or secretive anymore about how good Liverpool’s recruitment is, with January transfer window signing Luis Diaz making regular headlines to reinforce that fact this year.

The Colombian has been in town for only 107 days, yet already has six goals, countless man of the match performances and even two trophies to his name since signing. To underline the good decision he made to join – and the choice of the Reds in signing him – the other club who tried to nab him in winter, Tottenham, have won two trophies since March 1999. That’s 8,460 days ago, to be precise.

But look away from the Reds’ attack and there’s another who highlights every bit as well, if in somewhat more understated fashion, how impressively the identifying and capturing of talent continues at Anfield: centre-back Ibrahima Konate.

The French defender has been used in intermittent fashion in the Premier League this season, but has been a regular in other competitions, allowed to adapt and progress, learn the Reds’ ways and develop his own game away from the harshest domestic spotlight where the margin for error is effectively nil, thanks to Man City’s relentlessness.

And yet, by playing prominently in cup competitions, the margin there is also nil if teams want to progress. With both domestic cups already locked up and the Champions League final looming large, it’s safe to say there’s already a considerable body of evidence to show how fast Konate has adapted and how massive his performances have been.

The 2-1 comeback victory at Southampton on Tuesday night was just a 10th start in the top flight for the 22-year-old. He was a stand-out performer, as he has been so often, while his current levels of match time actually made him one of the more ‘regulars’ in a team which featured heavy rotation and a rare chance for those on the fringes.

Jurgen Klopp’s decision to field a mix-and-match XI was partly down to the exertions of the season and the 120-minute FA Cup final, and partly due to two more enormous games in the space of the final week of the season. Changes were inevitable; performance level less so given Harvey Elliott returned for a first league appearance in three months, Takumi Minamino started for the first time in the competition all season and even Roberto Firmino, once an immovable part of the line-up, had only featured for six minutes in the top flight in the previous six weeks.

But it’s clear, from that match and from the cup runs, that the regular words of praise Klopp has for his second string and squad players – the Ferraris in the garage, to use his term – isn’t just lip service.

The absolute standard of touch and timing might have been slightly lessened, but the individuals and the team functioned in exactly the same way as usual: the same passing patterns, the same build-up approach, the same proactive defensive stance and, most importantly, the same outcome at full-time.

It serves as a reminder that at least some of those hoping to breach the line-up on a more regular basis have the technical and tactical capacity to do so.

Konate, meanwhile, shows them that the pathway is there to achieve exactly that.

After arriving last summer as a player the Reds had tracked and monitored for well over a year, including a long spell where he was recovering from injury, Konate ended up as the only notable addition to last year’s squad.

He appeared an addition to provide extra defensive depth – the absence of which had very nearly proven costly last term – and longevity, a talent to develop and be an eventual successor for Joel Matip or Joe Gomez over time.

Instead, he has already pushed himself past the latter and at the very least the equal of the former.

Konate didn’t miss a single minute of Liverpool’s triumphant FA Cup run, including a goal, an assist and a clean sheet in the final.

(Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

He has played the full 90’ in seven of the Reds’ last eight Champions League games, missing only the second leg against Inter Milan. As it happens, that’s the only one Liverpool lost; as it further happens, not featuring in that defeat means Konate, 27 appearances and over 11 months since signing, has still not lost a football match in red.

In fact, his last defeat of any kind was a two-minute sub outing over 400 days ago; his last loss as a starter was in November 2020 against PSG. Not being an every-match pick for Leipzig or Liverpool, through injury or competition, naturally plays a fairly significant part in the quirky run of results, but it still underlines his own impact and consistency when called upon on Merseyside.

Right side of the centre-back pairing or left, alongside Virgil van Dijk, Matip or Gomez, it doesn’t seem to have fazed or swayed the No5.

He might not now play another minute in this most extraordinary of seasons for Liverpool, but with his winning record, his defensive performances, his recent form and his apparent capacity to take everything – pressure, expectations, attempted through balls from midfield – in his stride, Konate could yet get the nod in the Champions League final itself.

That would not only complete his year-long run-up from squad player to key starter, but would also show those who sign this summer or are still fighting for gametime that, under Klopp and with the right progression, almost any and every place in the team is there to be won.



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