Liverpool have already started hatching plans ahead of the summer transfer window, and RB Leipzig centre back Ibrahima Konate could be the first through the door.
Following an injury crisis at the back, the Reds have moved quickly to solve their troubles and are looking to finalise a deal to bring Konate – who has a £33million release clause in his contract – to Anfield.
Konate will be viewed as an option to contend for a first-team spot straight away, but the Reds will also see him as a valuable asset for the future.
With talk of a move gathering pace, Sportsmail has decided to take a close look at the 21-year-old centre back and what he will bring to the table…
Liverpool are hoping to wrap up a deal for RB Leipzig’s talented centre back Ibrahima Konate
WHAT IS HIS BACKGROUND?
Konate, born in Paris, started his career at French club Sochaux and his potential was visible from the off.
Standing at 6ft 4in tall, Konate stood out and he began his international journey with France’s Under 16s in 2014 before debuting for the U21s squad two years ago.
And despite only featuring 12 times for Sochaux – Leipzig had already seen enough before making the move for his signature. Add him alongside Dayot Upamecano, and that is a very exciting partnership at the back for the Bundesliga giants.
What is very impressive is that Leipzig, who have emerged as regulars in the Champions League knockout stages now, only paid around £300,000 for his services back in 2017.
But fast forward two years and Konate – whose current deal runs out in the summer of 2023 – could be set to depart for a whole lot more than that after shining for the German outfit.
With Leipzig not in a position of having to sell, Liverpool or any other buyer will have to pay Konate’s release clause of £33m (€40m), rather than trying to negotiate a lower asking price.
Konate in action against Manchester United in the Champions League in October last year
WHAT ARE HIS STRENGTHS?
Konate’s ability is clear for all to see, and Julian Nagelsmann will be sad to see him potentially depart this summer – knowing that his ceiling is very high.
It is the France Under 21 international’s physique that stands out with his strength, aggressiveness and power all key traits in his ever-improving game.
Furthermore, given that Leipzig’s game revolves around the press, opposition can potentially exploit spaces left in behind the defence. So Konate needs to be constantly switched on and aware from a positional point of view.
But his anticipation and pace allows him to get back in position very quickly, so that he can cut off passing lines and clear away any danger.
In fact, according to The Athletic – one data scout at a top European club clocked how he has been registered as one of the three fastest centre backs in Europe’s top five leagues within the past two seasons. And this speed would help massively in Liverpool’s high line.
Furthermore, Konate is also very strong in the air – and he wins his duels the majority of the time. If he doesn’t manage to win the ball first time round, the Frenchman always reacts quickly to claim the second ball.
However, it isn’t just physically that Konate excels. He is an accomplished dribbler, and can alleviate pressure on his defence with his work on the ball – a trait that would be needed in the Premier League given the high intensity of the game.
Konate’s stats for RB Leipzig during the 2020-21 season (courtesy of sofascore.com)
BUT WHERE CAN HE IMPROVE?
Despite gaining experience on the biggest stage, we have to remember Konate is still young and lacks that know-how, so mistakes do creep into his game.
His decision-making does hinder him against the world’s best still, but as mentioned already, those mistakes will be ironed out over time and his potential is huge – which Liverpool know all too well.
Furthermore, while we have already discussed that Konate is an accomplished dribbler, his decision-making and execution with the ball could be much better though when he is under pressure.
His ability to retain possession of the ball leaves a lot to be desired and it is something that he would have to improve on given Liverpool’s wishes to play out from the back – starting from goalkeeper Alisson.
Konate prefers to play short passes, which may highlight a lack of confidence in his own ability on the ball, compared to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – who look to play those medium to long-range passes.
But despite opting to play safe, Konate still retains the ball poorly for RB Leipzig while the Liverpool trio have a relatively high retention rate.
The 21-year-old will have to work on his ball retention if he seals a move to Merseyside
WHY DO THE REDS WANT TO BRING HIM IN?
It comes as no surprise that the reigning Premier League champions have already made plans for the summer transfer window given their nightmare at the back this season.
Long-term injuries to both Van Dijk and Gomez have derailed Liverpool’s season, with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson – who have also been plagued by injuries – having to fill in at the back.
These positional moves have led to a huge imbalance throughout the side and the addition of Konate would strengthen Liverpool’s defensive options to ensure another injury crisis doesn’t happen again.
Furthermore, Liverpool will view Konate as an immediate option to fill in at the back if there are any problems to Van Dijk or Gomez next season.
But perhaps more importantly, the Anfield outfit view how valuable the 21-year-old’s signing could prove in the long run as they look to battle it out at the summit for years to come.
He has already gained valuable experience in Europe and has the potential to become one of the best centre backs in world football – so Liverpool will be eager to beat the rest of the field to his signature.
Liverpool have been plagued by injuries to centre backs Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk
BUT SHOULD HIS INJURY RECORD BE A WORRY?
We have already mentioned how Konate would add much-needed strength in depth to Liverpool’s defence following their injury crisis, but Konate in fact has issues of his own.
The Parisian-born centre back has featured under 100 times – 89 to be precise – for Leipzig since moving to Germany four years ago following injury problems.
Last season, he featured just eight times for Leipzig after tearing a muscle fibre in his right leg in October.
He barely featured again for the rest of the season, even when the Bundesliga resumed last May following the outbreak of Covid-19.
It wasn’t until the last day of the campaign that Konate completed a full 90 minutes for Nagelsmann’s side.
One injury can be put down as bad luck but the young defender missed the first three games of the current season with a hip issue, which also kept him out of August’s Champions League quarter-final and semi-final.
Klopp will be praying that Konate’s injury issues don’t continue to curse him at Anfield if the deal gets over the line.
Konate’s injury record will worry Liverpool supporters, having hardly featured last season
AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR KABAK?
As always with new arrivals, it makes the future far less certain for some of those already at the club.
And in this case, question marks will be raised over the future of Turkish centre back Ozan Kabak – who was brought in on loan from Schalke in January with an option to buy come the end of the season for £18m.
But will the arrival of Konate mean Kabak has no future at Anfield? It would be a huge blow for the Turkish international – who admitted he was ‘fulfilling a childhood dream’ after moving to Merseyside.
After a tough opening to life on Merseyside, with the club in a horrible run of form that saw their title hopes implode, Kabak has started to settle in and has put in some assured displays in the heart of defence.
Liverpool have on the whole, defended pretty well with Kabak in the side, and have conceded less than a goal per game across his seven starts for the club.
Disregard his debut at Leicester, in which three goals were conceded in a horror collapse, Liverpool have shipped just three goals in six matches he has played. This is pretty impressive given he only moved to Anfield on deadline day in January.
But what will Klopp do with Kabak if Konate comes in? Keep both, or will he ruthlessly decide to part ways with the on-loan defender?
The arrival of Konate at Anfield would leave the future of Ozan Kabak up in the air