Jurgen Klopp has a tough job. Selecting the starting eleven from a wealth of more-than-capable options is not an easy task.
Okay, I don’t think anyone feels bad for Klopp. After all, he is the manager of the greatest club in the world, and the closest most of us will ever get to selecting a starting eleven is on Football Manager. But Klopp must make the correct decisions on who to start and who to rest against which teams — something he has done exceptionally well this season.
Rest and recovery are a vital part of any club in any league, but it’s especially important when your club is playing the maximum number of possible matches in a season, which Liverpool will do this season.
When Liverpool supporters talk about rotating the squad and give their starting elevens before a match, the centre-back position always has a trio of names mentioned.
Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate have all been world-class this season. You can truly make an argument for each one that they have been the best in their position.
The one centre-back spot that is certainly secure is van Dijk’s. The Dutch international has been in fine form and has put together another dominant season in a Liverpool jersey — tallying 49 appearances and 28 clean sheets so far.
The other centre-back position is not as secure. Matip and Konate have shared the playing time with neither being able to lock the other out. A healthy, competitive fight to be van Dijk’s playing partner will only bring out the best in these two and raise their level of play.
The more experienced Matip has played more over the course of the season — 40 total appearances with 23 clean sheets. While the young 22-year-old Konate has had to wait a little to see more consistent playing time — 25 total appearances with 11 clean sheets.
The centre-back pairings in 2022 paint a clearer picture of who Klopp favors in the backline
Liverpool has played 31 matches so far in 2022 — van Dijk and Matip have started together in 18 of those matches while van Dijk and Konate have been paired together for 11 matches. Big Virg has only missed two games since the calendar turned over — Matip and Konate started together in the Benfica second leg and Konate and Joe Gomez paired up for the FA Cup fifth-round match against Norwich.
Matip and Konate offer different playing styles from each other, and both complement the playing style of van Dijk.
Matip is more of a ball-playing defender, and he is much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Konate is. If you’ve watched Matip play at all this season, you’ve probably seen him go on a slaloming run or two and look to move the play forward with direct passes that bypass the midfield.
His offensive play this year has been impressive, but he has been equally impressive on the defensive side. Liverpool has recorded a clean sheet in ten of the last 15 matches Matip has started. He also collected the Premier League Player of the Month award for his performances in February.
Konate’s playing style is more like that of van Dijks. He is a dangerous threat in the air and uses his strength well when going in for a tackle. Konate is the most aggressive of the three when it comes to committing to challenges, which works in his favor at times and other times it results in him being caught out of position. He has great pace, which has saved Liverpool a few times when the outside backs are slow to recover.
Konate is still very young and will have quite the career at Liverpool if he continues to perform like he has this season. He is yet to lose a match when playing for the Reds (18-7-0).
This is why Klopp’s job as a manager is so tough. Who do you choose to start the FA Cup and Champions League finals? Who is the pairing for the remaining Premier League matches? Any pairing will see two quality defenders on the pitch, it’s just a matter of who fits the matchup better. Which centre-back pairing would you go with for the remaining games?