Following the returns of Thiago and Diogo Jota, another of Liverpool’s top players from last season is soon to arrive, and he might be crucial in a breathless run
The early injury pile-up, with Thiago’s absence likely most acutely felt, being one of the main reasons Liverpool has struggled thus far this season.
He is, after all, not only among the greatest in his position but also a key member of Liverpool.
It was clear from his performance against Ajax on Tuesday, when the Reds put on a far stronger and more recognizable effort to go back on the winning track.
But because Thiago has been the center of attention, it makes sense that other prominent absentees have received less attention.
Diogo Jota missed the first five Premier League games due to a recurrence of a hamstring injury in the early part of preseason. Liverpool was without a striker capable of scoring 21 goals and, more importantly, a player who could fill the gap left by Darwin Nez’s adaptation and Roberto Firmino’s decline.
Ibrahima Konaté, who played 29 games for the Reds last season, made significant league appearances against Spurs (twice), Chelsea, and Manchester United as well as in the Champions League and FA Cup finals. Due to a knee injury sustained in the final preseason match against Strasbourg, he is yet to kick a ball in a competitive match this year.
Jota and Konaté haven’t been mentioned often in “what’s wrong?” talks in part because Liverpool has better coverage in those spots than they do in midfield.
For example, Klopp might use Joe Gomez and Jol Matip at center-half instead of Konaté, who was Konaté’s backup last season.
However, given that both are expected to start many games this season, their returns — Jota at the beginning of this month and Konaté maybe at the beginning of the following — are crucial. Jota did actually start against Ajax on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Konaté might fight for the starting spot opposite Virgil van Dijk, which may have been the plan for him at the beginning of this season.
It is important to think about what he can add to a defense that has been struggling, partly due to insufficient midfield protection but also as a result of isolated mistakes made by all players.
When in top form, Van Dijk is without a doubt the Reds’ best center-back, and the majority of people would probably agree that this Gomez, post-injury, deserves to be fourth in the lineup. It is also difficult to distinguish between Konaté and Matip; Klopp may have been struggling with the same problem. However, Konaté may offer superior balance in his set of skills.
While Konaté is undoubtedly the stronger and faster player of the two, Matip can hold his own in a race and is rarely intimidated. Because of this, many Liverpool supporters advocate for the Frenchman to be selected for matches against exceptionally quick or powerful strikers.
While he isn’t quite as dangerous from set-pieces as Matip—he scored the same number of goals last season (three), but he averaged 0.37 fewer shots per 90 minutes (0.95 vs. 0.58—he still has an advantage over Gomez in this area, and he outperforms Matip defensively in aerial duels, winning 70.7 percent of them compared to 68.4 percent of Matip’s.
When it comes to the other defensive principles, it’s difficult to distinguish between Matip and Konaté, despite the latter’s superior ability to read the game.
At this point, he can’t quite match the more experienced player for accurate passing or ball carrying, but he should get better in both areas and is doing well already.
Overall, Konaté’s return from the international break might strengthen Liverpool’s starting XI, but it greatly depends on your viewpoint.
But one thing is certain: The Reds will profit greatly from the increase in depth before the frenetic race to the World Cup. They have the best bunch of center backs in football, and they could soon start to benefit from that.