The Konate conundrum: Liverpool must consider sale if fitness issues don't get sorted

There was a period when Ibrahima Konate felt bordering on untouchable at Liverpool, and the natural successor to Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the defence.

Having arrived from RB Leipzig in 2021, the Frenchman quickly established himself as Van Dijk's strongest centre-back partner, as injuries continued to affect Joel Matip.

Konate had just turned 22 when he joined Liverpool, but there was a maturity and physicality that belied his years, and he looked like one of Europe's leading young defenders.

His first season was particularly impressive, as the Reds came within touching distance of winning a quadruple, and his trajectory was seemingly only a positive one.

Fast forward three years, however, and the 25-year-old finds himself in a position few expected him to be in at this point - a potential problem player for the Reds.

While Konate's level of performances have generally remained strong in his three seasons at Anfield to date, his fitness woes are becoming increasingly problematic.

Konate loses his place to Quansah

He seems incapable of stringing together a long run of matches without picking up a new problem, and it is robbing him of the chance to find genuine rhythm.

In the latter part of last season, Konate's form dipped significantly, with some clumsy, almost disengaged performances leading him to lose his place to Jarell Quansah.

It was fully warranted, too.

Football - FA Premier League - Aston Villa FC v Liverpool FC BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, May 13, 2024: Liverpool s Jarell Quansah R celebrates with team-mate captain Virgil van Dijk after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda BIRMINGHAM Villa Park WEST MIDLANDS ENGLAND PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Copyright: xDavidxRawcliffex P2024-05-13-Aston_Villa_Liverpool-111

Konate's disappointment has continued at international level as well, with the Liverpool man not yet appearing for a single minute for France at Euro 2024.

Despite going into the tournament as a predicted starter, he has instead had to watch William Saliba and Dayot Upamecano impressing ahead of him, and he spoke bullishly about his fitness and lack of minutes recently:

"I came with a lot of expectations, that’s part of football. I knew what my place was before the first match. It’s frustrating but I know my role on and off the field. A 100 percent ‘Ibou’ would never have sat on the bench.

READ MORE: Konate on fitness struggles

"I didn’t play for a month and a half! I prepared, I almost passed out more than once. The preparation was very short. It’s part of football. It was a good lesson for me."

Can Slot rely on Konate?

Konate is clearly a frustrated figure, and there is nothing he can do about the injuries, which can easily be forgotten sometimes when supporters grow disappointed with an individual who is constantly sidelined.

The problem is, can Arne Slot look at Liverpool's No.5 and see him as a major part of his plans at Anfield?

If you could guarantee that Konate wasn't going to miss a single game for the next five years, it would clearly be a different situation, but it is hard to rely on him.

Like Diogo Jota further up the pitch, you find yourself waiting for that next setback season after season.

Van Dijk turns 33 years of age next week, and isn't going to be around forever, and is his teammate really the man to lead the defence when he has gone?

The brutal answer has to be no, unless something drastically changes when it comes to availability.

Konate availability issues

Only 90 appearances in three seasons highlights Konate's in-and-out nature at Anfield - only 78 of those have been starts - and Van Dijk has made 140 in that same period, which is an eye-opening direct comparison.

When fit and firing, Konate is a colossal figure - one who is capable of bringing the ball out from the back, outmuscling the burliest of attackers and providing lightning pace to help extinguish flames on the counter-attack.

But there will come a point where a new centre-back has to come in, arriving as an upgrade on him, mainly in terms of availability.

Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate

You can't have a key player whose minutes have to be permanently monitored, not wanting to risk playing him three times in a week.

It would be a huge shock if at least one central defender didn't arrive this summer, especially with Matip moving on, and Konate will know the importance of an injury-free pre-season, hitting the ground running under Slot.

For the first time, his place in Liverpool's strongest XI feels debatable, with the emergence of Quansah putting further pressure on him.

Liverpool must consider Konate sale

Granted, Konate is still the superior player, and an excellent run for the young Englishman doesn't change that, but it doesn't feel like there is such a chasm in class between them now.

By this point, Konate should be considered one of Europe's top centre-backs, arguably performing at a level close to Van Dijk, if not being on a par with the Dutchman.

Things haven't materialised that way, however, and he finds himself at a crossroads point in his Liverpool career, with only two years remaining on his current deal.

It would be wrong to go too overboard about Konate's issues, with his dip in form in the spring months something that can happen to any player, but there is no doubt that his stock has fallen.

Should the injuries continue to hamper him, there will come a point next summer when a sale has to be considered, cashing in on him before potentially losing him on a free transfer in 2026.

Here's hoping his injury-plagued nature suddenly becomes a thing of the past, but if not, a new leader of Liverpool's back-line will need to be found.

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