Liverpool are blessed with elite options at centre-back. Any doubters would only have to ask Joe Gomez, who has been granted an almost criminally small amount of minutes in recent times due to the strength of his competitors for the position.
It says a lot about Virgil van Dijk that he remains unassailable. Liverpool have unwavering faith in the Dutch colossus, as evidenced by a lucrative contract extension signed before he had even returned from a long-term injury. He has done nothing to make FSG regret that decision.
But while Jürgen Klopp has an automatic selection on the left of his defence, the right-sided centre-back role remains up in the air. While Gomez remains in the equation, the principal battle seems to be between Joël Matip and Ibrahima Konaté. Injuries and rotation will ensure both get chances, but each will be vying to rank second in the pecking order. They both have a case for such a status.
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Two of our Liverpool.com writers have their say on the debate (and don’t forget: you can also have your say in the comments at the bottom of the page!).
“Klopp cannot sacrifice a key playmaker” – James Martin
The day will come when Konaté takes over fully from Matip. With an age difference of almost eight years, that process is only natural. But the rush to shepherd out the Cameroonian is premature.
We saw it last summer, with plenty of fans calling on Liverpool to cut their losses with the centre-back. Perhaps understandable in light of the injury woes he had suffered, such a suggestion was nonetheless made to look ludicrous over the course of 2021/22, a campaign in which Matip genuinely made a case for Player of the Season. And while it is now age rather than injury that has people pushing him out of the door, it is a similarly foolish assessment.
Konaté does lots of things very well indeed — some even better than Matip. But what he does not offer in the same quantities is progression of the ball. His senior colleague’s adventures forward are renowned throughout the league, but no easier to stop because of that.
Klopp is still in the process of his latest midfield evolution, seeking creators from the middle. Once that is complete, Konaté’s still-above-average level of progression will be more than sufficient. But in the meantime, Matip remains a crucial tool for breaking down stubborn defences. His 99th percentile progressive carries (compared to all centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues), 95th percentile progressive passes and 98th percentile touches in the attacking penalty area make him a unique threat.
Add to that his superior levels of concentration and reliability, and it is hard to see why Matip should still not be the go-to guy, albeit as part of a healthy level of rotation. He is younger than Van Dijk by exactly a month, and nobody is showing the Dutchman to the exit. It is time he gets the respect he deserves.
“Build for the future and the now” – Ben Bocsak
There are no two ways about it, Matip is an elite centre-back and one of the best in the world. But Konaté is equally as suited if not better suited to this Liverpool team — especially when it comes to Klopp’s high line.
Last season, against teams possessing potent counter attacking threat, Klopp often opted to deploy Konaté alongside Van Dijk, and that was for a reason. The Frenchman just has that added speed which is more suited to Liverpool’s highline than Matip, and better capable of alleviating the pressure from opposition attacks.
Last season, Konaté lost just one game in a Liverpool shirt. Unfortunately, that game happened to be the Champions League final, but even in that performance the Liverpool centre-back was impervious. He handled the threat of his compatriot Karim Benzema, arguably one of the best forwards in the world, with immaculate precision.
At times his decision-making still needs to improve, but he will only develop that with regular game time, and for me the upside of having him in the team negates any negative impact that he has, which is very minimal in the first place.
Which writer do you agree with? Have your say in the comments box below.
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