Next season is going to be a defining one for Liverpool.
After five years of consistent progress yielded a Champions League and a Premier League, you can take the odd bad season on the chin.
The world will be watching to see how they bounce back, though. Was 2020/21 the gut-punching full-stop at the end of an era? Or was it just a footnote within a legacy that will yield far more trophies in the years ahead?
If Liverpool want to be sure it’s the latter, then they have to get their recruitment right this summer. The squad is in need of serious cosmetic surgery, and according to The Athletic, RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate is on the agenda.
The 21-year-old is said to be in ‘advanced talks’ with the Reds, who can bypass Leipzig completely by meeting his €40m release clause.
At face value, it’s fairly obvious what he brings to the table. At 6’4, he’s one of the few central defenders on the planet who can rival Virgil van Dijk for aerial prowess, and he’s at an age where he could develop into a long-term replacement for the Dutchman – while still possessing the requisite ability to contribute now.
Skillset wise, he looks a perfect fit for the Reds’ back line. Having started out life as a striker, idolising Ronaldo Nazario in his early teens, he knows how to play with the ball at his feet. With 85% passing accuracy over his past ten matches, he’s performing roughly in line with Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip in that regard.
He rivals all of the above in the key areas for central defenders – aerial duels, tackling, interceptions, you name it – and there have been comparisons made to Dayot Upamecano, given they’re both dominant defenders playing for the same team.
Former Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick, though, notes that Konate relies far less on his physical attributes and more on his brain.
“Whereas Dayot relies a lot on his physique and his pace, Ibu plays with his head more,” Rangnick said previously. “He’s got great anticipation and positioning.”
Take all of that and combine it with his personality – former agent Bruno Satin described him in The Athletic as “incredibly humble and always wanting to learn” – and it becomes clear to see why Liverpool are so keen to bring him in. Young, athletic, technically proficient and humble – he’s basically the textbook FSG signing.
The big question mark over his signing is his fitness record, but The Athletic note that he has had only one serious injury – a hip flexor problem that recurred earlier this season. Other injuries, such as the ankle problem that kept him out of the Champions League tie with the Reds earlier this season, have shown no signs of having a long-term impact on his fitness.
You could make the case that his recent injury misfortune opens the door further for Liverpool. The Reds are known for their opportunistic signings, and the limitations placed on Konate’s game-time have cooled the interest from elsewhere, giving Liverpool a clear run-up to drive the deal home in the weeks ahead.
Don’t go moving Konate to your Liverpool team on FIFA just yet. As we saw with Nabil Fekir a couple of years ago, there is plenty of scope for unanticipated roadbumps even when things appear to be going smoothly.
All going to plan, though, it seems he is set to be one of the flagship signings of an unpredictable new era at Anfield.
Whether that’s a successful one remains to be seen, but early signs suggest that with Konate, it’s off to a strong start.