It has been widely reported this week that highly-rated defender, Ibrahima Konaté, could be swapping Leipzig for Liverpool as the Reds look to bolster their defensive options ahead of next season.
After their calamitous title defence this year, Jürgen Klopp has already identified a few areas in which he wants to strengthen, starting with the position that has been their downfall this season.
Since the injuries to both Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, Liverpool have been linked with just about every centre-back in world football, finally adding to their defensive ranks late in the January window.
The signings Ozan Kabak from Schalke and Ben Davies from Preston North End were shrewd pieces of business – cheap, temporary options – but the Reds could break the bank to kickstart their next title charge.
And according to reports which emerged on Monday, it appears the champions are close to agreeing the Premier League’s first major signing of the summer transfer window.
The Athletic and other reports claim Liverpool have contacted the French centre-half and are now finalising a deal to bring the 21-year-old to Anfield.
It is claimed Liverpool are not the only club interested in the French u21 international but talks with the Reds are reportedly at an advanced stage.
Leipzig are under no pressure to sell, and so any buyer would have to pay the defender’s release clause – thought to be around £34m, in full to land him this summer.
Triggering the defender’s release clause means the Reds have not needed to make direct contact with Leipzig, although the Bundesliga side are thought to be aware of Liverpool’s interest.
Konaté joined Leipzig from French Ligue 2 club Sochaux in June 2017, signing a five-year deal. He has been restricted to less than 100 appearances for the German side since his arrival, mainly due to injuries, but is still regarded as one of the top young defensive talents in Europe.
At 6ft 4in, he’s incredibly good in the air, with a good leap and his height making for almost van Dijk-like aerial prowess. He also has good pace – which, as we have seen this season, is absolutely crucial for Liverpool’s overall system to work for the Reds’ use of a high defensive line.Embed from Getty Images
One of his major strengths is his comfort in dribbling the ball out from the back, considered “better than any of Liverpool’s current options” in the position in one-on-one situations.
But what could the Frenchman’s arrival at Anfield mean for Liverpool’s other defensive options?
To ensure the squad is able to cope with the potential injuries again next year, Klopp will be looking to have at least four senior centre-backs at his disposal. The likely four would be van Dijk, Gomez, Kabak – if the Reds make his loan move permanent – and Konaté, should he join in the summer.
The only consideration Klopp may have is the severity of the injuries sustained by van Dijk and Gomez. The pair are returning from long-term injuries and the likelihood of them coming straight back into the side and playing every game seems slim.Embed from Getty Images
With the Europa League looking a real possibility as we enter the final games of the season, the early parts of the tournament could provide both Gomez and van Dijk some valuable playing time as they return to full match fitness.
This leaves three centre-backs in the unknown and could make way in the summer window. It would be no surprise if Joël Matip was moved on if the right bid came in – he’s an ideal backup centre-back should we need him.
Nat Phillips has enjoyed a cult-like emergence this season but is the least likely out of the current defenders available to Klopp. Davies is yet to make an appearance for the Reds due to a niggling injury, so it is unclear where the 25-year-old fits into Klopp’s current plans.
It is still unclear on who Klopp has decided on starting in his defence next year, but he is not short of options. The likes of van Dijk, Gomez and Matip will all be returning, Kabak will be looking to turn his loan move into a permanent one, and Phillips will be looking to make a claim to push for a place in the starting XI.
Throw in Davies and the potential arrival of Konaté, Klopp will have a very welcome selection headache in an area where his options have been restricted for far too long.
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