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Transfer Scouting: Ibrahima Konaté

With Konaté officially a Liverpool player, we take a closer look at what the Reds’ new defender brings to the table.

TSG Hoffenheim v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

Did FSG’s bumbling participation in the Super League fiasco make you angry? Are you a legacy fan, and thus deemed surplus to requirements in the club owners’ chase for fans of the future? Good news, kinda! The money men come bearing a blatant peace offering—and it’s a big, talented one.

Today, Liverpool have announced the signing of Konaté from RB Leipzig after triggering the player’s £36M release clause, with the 22-year-old French defender arriving to address the club’s biggest weakness this past season. It’s a big name and a sturdy fee, so interest and excitement are deservedly high.

Without further ado, then, we offer our analysis and opinion on the Reds shiny new signing.

Ibrahima Konaté

DOB: 25/5/99 (22 years old) | Height: 6’4” (194cm)
2020/21 season: 18 appearances, 1 goal

Strengths: If you’re a Liverpool fan who hasn’t yet grown tired of announcers focusing primarily on the physical attributes of black players, then by this time next year you will be. Ibrahima Konaté is, not to put too fine a point on it, just an outrageous athlete. At 6’4 and comfortably over 200lbs, the 22-year old is predictably dominant in the air, winning 82% of his aerial duels over the past two years in the Bundesliga — the second highest rate in the competition, and higher than any player in the Premier league — but he also runs like a deer, covering shocking amounts of ground with long, powerful strides.

It’s not just straight-line speed, either. The Leipzig defender possesses improbable balance for his frame — able to shift his weight in any direction with ease, whether on or off the ball — and although he can occasionally go to ground more often than some would prefer, his lower body strength provides him with tremendous recoverability, ensuring that he rarely takes himself out of the play when he does so.

Regularly sending attackers tumbling to the ground through fair contact, Konaté displays outstanding body strength, and, like many good man defenders, seems to have an innate ability to suck the ball carrier into his gravitational pull, where he can either body them off the ball or use one of his Fabinho-esque telescopic legs to poke it away. He is well aware of his ability, too, and so will aggressively pursue and get tight to an attacker in open space, denying them any opportunity to get comfortable and create.

In possession, the Paris-born giant is extremely comfortable, pairing the aforementioned balance with raw strength and a surprisingly gentle touch on the ball to pick his way past first defenders, opening up the pitch in front of him. With nearly 4 progressive carries per 90 minutes, the Frenchman stacks up well alongside Joe Gomez, although not quite at the level of Joël Matip, the right-sided central defenders he will be tasked with backing up or replacing.

He is comfortable taking the ball all the way into the final third as well, and the sight of a marauding Konaté in the opposition half is all but guaranteed to excite the Kop a couple of times per match.

In addition these generalities, there is always a need to take a player’s specific tactical fit and experience into consideration, and although few teams in Europe force their central defenders into as much open-field defending as Liverpool do — making this sort of analysis difficult — RB Leipzig are definitely among those that do. Alongside Bayern-bound Dayot Upamecano, Konaté has consistently been forced to make split-second decisions covering for an aggressive press and high line with swathes of green behind him, and he has shone in doing so. Paired with his young age, this sort of experience is immensely relevant as he looks to transition into Jürgen Klopp’s demanding defensive set-up.

Weaknesses: Although he possesses natural power and can effortlessly dink a 60-yard pass, the Paris FC youth product needs to add consistency to his passing. An 85% overall completion rate is notably low for a centre-back, and his 64% long pass success, 3.2 progressive passes, and 3.2 passes into the final third per 90 minutes are well short of what will be expected of him on Merseyside — and indeed well short of what Jürgen Klopp’s current options provide. The raw ability is there, and that ability means that even now he will occasionally step up and play a breathtaking line-breaker, but it needs to be applied with far more regularity.

For somebody who dominates the aerial space of his own half so completely, Konaté provides startlingly little attacking threat. In his four-year Bundesliga career, the towering defender has not registered a single headed goal and has in fact only generated a total of 13 headed shots. His body size means he is eminently effective in setting pick plays for other set-piece threats, but when you can push a 6’4 defender with a leap like that into the box every match, you’d like to see them to chip in with a few goals each season.

Finally, and perhaps most pertinently, there is the question of health. The Reds have had rotten luck with injuries in the past few years — particularly at the centre-back position — and Konaté arrives having played less than 2,000 minutes over the past two seasons, owing to a troublesome muscle tear and an ankle injury. Liverpool’s willingness to overlook past injury troubles — in the cases of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thiago, in particular — have come back to bite them before, and it is somewhat surprising they are willing to take that gamble again. Hopefully, it is third time lucky for Michael Edwards and the AC Laptop Gang.

Summary: On pure talent, fit, need, and price, it is hard to think of a more adroit signing than this. In the uncertainty of a post-covid transfer market, £36M is absolutely incredible value for what remains one of Europe’s most exciting defensive prospects for a side that sorely needed to address long-term squad-building issues at the position.

As with most deals that appear unreasonably auspicious, there is risk there, in this case questions about Konaté’s ability to stay healthy in the long term. Yet should he prove himself capable of staying out of the physio’s room consistently, Liverpool will have secured themselves a potentially talismanic defender for the next decade.

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