Ibrahima Konate bettered Liverpool’s title winning defense with his role model

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As the dust finally settles on Liverpool’s 2021/22 campaign, it feels as though not enough has been made of their tremendous defensive record. They conceded just 26 times in their 38 league matches, which meant this season was their seventh best on a goal-per-game basis from the 107 which the club have spent in the top flight.

Although Liverpool’s first choice goalkeeper and defenders are among the best players in their positions in the world, there were certainly no guarantees that the Reds would perform as well at the back as they did this season. All three senior center-backs were returning from long-term injury absences while Ibrahima Konate was set to enjoy his first taste of English football.

His campaign may not have been flawless, but the former RB Leipzig man did tremendously well overall. Even leaving aside his defensive efforts, Konate’s goals against Benfica and Manchester City ensured his debut campaign with the Reds will be fondly remembered.

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The 23-year-old’s performances throughout the campaign have seen him called up by Didier Deschamps to the senior French team for the first time. Konate has since spoken about two players he considers role models, one of whom is obvious.

Sergio Ramos, the other, perhaps less so, but he named Virgil van Dijk as the best center-back in the world. “It’s only the beginning and I hope to learn a lot and progress,” he said, and there aren’t any defenders better placed to assist in this regard than van Dijk.

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Jurgen Klopp smartly paired Konate with his best center-back as often as he could this season. The Liverpool number five played almost two thirds (1,605) of his 2,490 minutes alongside the Dutch colossus. He then had 570 minutes with Joel Matip, 225 with Joe Gomez and a memorable run-out with Nat Phillips in the San Siro against AC Milan to cap things off.

On a minutes per goal basis, Konate had the best record with Gomez as they conceded only once. However, a pair of cup games with Norwich City and the second half of a crazy Carabao Cup tie with Leicester are hardly on a par with the games ‘Ibou’ played alongside van Dijk.

They lined up together for all three cup finals in 2021/22 (albeit only for extra time in the first of them) as well as in a further four Champions League matches. Klopp also utilized Konate and Virgil for famous victories over both Manchester clubs as well as league draws with Chelsea and Tottenham. In short, they played many of the biggest games of the campaign at the heart of the Reds’ defense.

Liverpool kept clean sheets in eight of the 17 full matches they played together, a hit rate a shade below the overall overall record of 32 from 63 games. Perhaps more interesting was the fact they only conceded a goal every 123 minutes.

This was not as strong as van Dijk’s record with Matip – one every 150 – but it topped the best combinations from 2019/20 (and we’ll brush over last season as none of the 20 pairings Klopp used played more than 644 minutes together) . The Reds’ most effective central defensive partnership in the Premier League title-winning campaign were again Matip and van Dijk, who conceded every 104 minutes.

Following a brief injury absence in March (his only one of the campaign), Konate started 11 of the final 18 matches of 2021/22, one more than Matip. With the gargantuan importance of these fixtures as part of Liverpool’s quadruple bid, we may look back at the final two months of this season as the point at which Konate surpassed Matip as van Dijk’s senior partner. If that proves to be the case, the master and his apprentice have already demonstrated they can meet any challenge next season will offer.

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