European specialist? ‘Exceptional’ Konate proving key to Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League glory.

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For Ibrahima Konate, Liverpool must thank Basel, Lyon, Porto, Fulham, FC Copenhagen and Union Berlin.

It is fair to say the France Under-21 international has made a good impact since his move from RB Leipzig last summer and, in real terms, he barely cost the Reds a penny.

The £36 million ($46m) fee, you see, was basically covered by player sales.

By offloading the likes of Liam Millar, Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Grujic, Harry Wilson, Kamil Grabara and Taiwo Awoniyi, Liverpool were able to give Jurgen Klopp exactly what he needed, and precisely what had been missing last season: central defensive cover.

Konate was the club’s only first-team signing heading into this campaign, but it’s always been about quality over quantity at Anfield, and as his first season on Merseyside heads towards a glorious conclusion, there can be few complaints now about Liverpool’s transfer policy last summer.

“The right player at the right time for the right price,” was how one source described Konate’s signing at the time.

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While many eyes – including Bayern Munich’s – were drawn to another Leipzig centre-back, Dayot Upamecano, Liverpool were always convinced that it was Konate who had the higher ceiling, and who would suit their style better.

So far, so good, on that score. The former Sochaux man has adapted to life in England superbly, making 22 appearances in all competitions as Klopp’s side have gone hunting for trophies.

“An exceptional talent,” Klopp calls him.

Ibrahima Konate Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2021-22 GFX

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On Wednesday, Konate is likely to start alongside Virgil van Dijk against Villarreal in the first leg of Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final at Anfield.

He played as big a role as anyone in getting them through the quarter-final, scoring in both legs of the 6-4 aggregate win over Benfica. In between those ties, he managed to notch another big goal, scoring the opener against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final at Wembley.

All three goals were eerily similar, towering headers from left-wing corners. Konate, like Van Dijk and Joel Matip, with whom he is competing for a starting berth, has a size and a presence that makes him a considerable threat from set-pieces.

“He’s looking quite impressive,” says Van Dijk. “And especially for his age [22] as well, he’s very mature.

“He still has a lot to learn, but he has such a good mentality. He wants to learn and improve, and that’s what we need.”

Liverpool have never lost when Konate has played, and though he has only made eight Premier League appearances so far, he already has some big games under his belt on Merseyside.

He started, for example, the 5-0 win at Manchester United in October. He was picked away at both Tottenham and Chelsea, came on at half-time in the Carabao Cup semi-final at Arsenal and started the Champions League last-16 first leg away to Inter Milan, as well as both legs of the quarter-final.

Having started five of the last six in the competition, he’s become something of a European specialist.

It was he who was given the nod at Wembley ahead of Matip and it is he who has relegated Joe Gomez, a Premier League title winner and England international, to the role of fourth-choice centre back.

Ibrahima Konate Virgil van Dijk Liverpool Benfica Champions League 2021-22 GFX

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“If you have a player like Gomez and he is fourth-choice, you know you have a strong squad,” Dirk Kuyt, the former Liverpool forward, tells GOAL.

“Konate is doing really well. Scoring important goals, but also defensively. He has been really big at both ends of the pitch.

“It’s a privilege for Klopp to have so many options to choose from in the back four. We know how hard it was last season, with all the injuries.

“Now, all over the pitch he has choices, and Konate is doing really well for him.”

It is fair to say that competition has played a big part in Liverpool’s march towards an unlikely, indeed unprecedented, quadruple this season.

Klopp’s squad, with the exception of Roberto Firmino, who has been nursing a foot issue, is completely injury-free at present, meaning not only does he have some big selection decisions to make, but also the option to switch things up as and when required.

For the FA Cup semi-final, for example, Klopp was able to make seven changes from the side which had finished the job against Benfica a few days earlier.

Konate, indeed, was one of the four who kept his place, and rewarded his manager with a stellar performance and a big goal.

The form of Matip means he would most probably start if the Champions League final was tomorrow, but with huge games to come over the next five weeks, Konate will get plenty of opportunities to prove his worth.

And judging by what he’s done so far, he’ll take them too. Another tick in the box for Liverpool’s recruitment team.


Source
Adwoa Adubia News

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