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Klopp risks transfer fallout with £36m Liverpool decision he must get right

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Ibrahima Konaté’s signing came out of the blue last summer as Liverpool activated his £36m release clause at RB Leipzig. His former team mate Dayot Upamecano was expected to have the higher ceiling, but FSG apparently thought otherwise.

Just 23 years old, Liverpool look to have acquired a centre-back whose name will soon be among the world’s best. Jürgen Klopp has quickly evolved the criteria for who is capable of playing in the heart of the Reds’ defence, though the start to life that Konaté made was difficult to foresee.

The Liverpool centre-back, who made his senior international debut for France recently, started just 11 Premier League games last season — a figure that Klopp must re-balance to ensure that suitors from abroad don’t come calling for a potential generational defender.

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Konaté seemed to earn the trust of Klopp more as the season went on, with the Frenchman being preferred to Joël Matip in the Champions League final. But more saliently, a pattern looks to have emerged in terms of when each player is preferred.

In games where Liverpool are dealing with a dangerous left-winger who will look to utilise the space Trent Alexander-Arnold vacates, the Reds look to use Konaté’s pace to counter-act that approach. Vinícius Júnior was kept quiet for the majority of the final in Paris, with Konaté earning glowing plaudits for his performance amid the disappointment of defeat.

But in a competition for places that includes the world’s best centre-back, Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool’s second centre-back spot has become a straight duel between two players who could make a case for being the other best two defenders in the Premier League.

Matip made 31 league appearances for Liverpool last season, contributing to six goals in the process. Like Van Dijk, he, too, returned from injury and looked to have found new levels. He will turn 31 in August, an age still comfortably among the prime years of a central defender.

While that is a good problem to have for Klopp, whispers could soon emerge that suggest Konaté deserves to be playing more regularly — and they wouldn’t be wrong. The 23-year-old is likely to become an established member of France’s international setup from now on, leaving the possibility of his reputation hitting an all-time high when the World Cup kicks off later this year.

Reassuringly, the talented French centre-half is contracted at the club until 2026. He will, undoubtedly, have become a regular starter for Liverpool by that time — if he accepts a slightly more rotated role under Klopp, and does not push for a transfer before then. Matip remains the strongest option in games where the Reds require a more ball-playing defender against stubborn defences, while Konaté looks to be a better fit for clashes against the likes of Manchester City — the need for an all-out defensive stopper.

For Klopp, it will be a case of re-balancing the red pendulum to maintain the morale of both stars, altering the dials for an increase of Konaté’s Premier League tally next season — but all without handing Matip a workload that doesn’t reflect the quality of a player who was on par with van Dijk last season. That’s why Liverpool pay the boss the big bucks.



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