Liverpool appears to be on the verge of signing center back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, which will likely mean Ozan Kabak heads elsewhere, perhaps even to Leipzig themselves, and the Reds move forward with the French central defender as their significant defensive upgrade of the summer transfer window.
Fabrizio Romano has basically confirmed the move is happening, which has been well-received by Kopites. Fans have been anxiously refreshing for updates regarding the center back position, knowing full well the team will end up with a great young defender in either Kabak or Konate.
Despite the fact that the latter costs nearly double the former, Jurgen Klopp has evidently made his choice in Bundesliga center back. Again, Kabak is a very good player who is great with the ball at his feet and astute defensively, but Konate’s reading of the game and consistency are superior. For Klopp, Konate’s discipline and excellence against Robert Lewandowski in 2018-2019 may have also been deciding factors in a one-on-one comparison.
Konate’s recent film isn’t bad, but I think Liverpool are signing him on the basis of what he accomplished in his last full season as a healthy starter in 2018-2019. It’s not a stretch to say that Konate was the best defender in the Bundesliga that year, given he averaged 2.1 interceptions per game and was dribbled past just 0.4 times per game as a full-time starter, per WhoScored.com.
Ibrahima Konate could push for starts in big Premier League games at Liverpool next season if signed
In the two seasons since then, Konate has yet to total 700 minutes in a singular Bundesliga campaign. But that year, Konate amassed well over 2,000 minutes as a breakout star. As good as Dayot Upamecano was in 2019-2020 and as quietly good as Willi Orban was this past season, I don’t think either talented Leipzig center back quite matched the heights Konate did in 2018-19.
Therefore, Liverpool are paying over 30 million euros to Leipzig with the intent that Konate will play a significant role in their defense next season. And he may play a significant role up-front, given Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez need to be eased back from injury. Nat Phillips has shown he can be a role player, but he is going to be a fifth-choice center back behind van Dijk, Gomez, Joel Matip, and Konate when everyone is healthy.
Matip is a bit of a question mark at this stage because of the injuries and mileage on him, but he’s a fantastic player when he’s available. Gomez’s talent is not to be questioned, while van Dijk is arguably the world’s best. Konate has some real competition for minutes, but he’s going to push for time, especially since Liverpool have shown real faith in going after him over Kabak and paying a significant – but reasonable, considering the player’s quality – fee to Leipzig.
Konate seems like a great partner for Gomez and could get a lot of minutes in cup games. He can allow Gomez to express himself more as a defender, because Konate is more of a composed reader of the game who battles defensively, while Gomez has more upside as an active defender who can excel with the ball at his feet. Konate could help bring the best out of Gomez if the two play together.
But we have to have a real conversation about Konate beating out Gomez for the starting job next to van Dijk. Konate may be a better pure defender of the two, which could be a deciding factor. The situation is fluid, and we can’t count out Matip’s pedigree either. But the Reds didn’t sign Konate if they didn’t think he could push to start, even in big Premier League matches. That may not happen as he earns his place, gains his confidence, and wins some trust. But it could happen by the end of the season, provided his performances are in line with what we saw a couple of years ago.
So the 2021-2022 season is shaping up to be a very interesting one for the Liverpool defense if the Konate signing becomes official. There’s some risk in paying for a guy who has not played much in the last two seasons, but I think Klopp and Fenway Sports Group have made a wise gamble of sorts here. Konate is just 22, yet from what we’ve seen on the pitch, he carries himself like a veteran. Jules Kounde is the same age, and Konate looks like a value signing for Liverpool in comparison with the potential to be of comparable quality to the Sevilla man.