Should Konate or Matip start Liverpool's clash with Man City?

Who else is already racked his nerves ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Manchester City this weekend?

While Pep Guardiola’s side may never be the Reds’ most bitter rivals, as much as their fans want to suggest otherwise – Manchester United and Everton should always take that prize – this is still the most important fixture when it comes to simply looking at the league table.

Last season, City were none of Liverpool’s business, such was the depressing manner in which Jurgen Klopp’s side disintegrated as each month passed, but that has all changed this time around.

Guardiola’s men are clearly still the team to beat at the top of the Premier League table, and Arsenal are unlikely to go away, but the Reds are a team with the bit between the teeth, with confidence high when it comes to mounting a genuine title challenge.

READ MORE: Premier League xG table gives Liverpool fans cause for excitement

Sure, the 1-1 draw at Luton Town was bitterly disappointing, but title-chasing teams have always dropped sloppy points – City and Liverpool have just skewed that with freakish consistency in recent years.

Saturday lunchtime’s trip to the Etihad is going to tell us so much more about this Liverpool side, though, and by the time the final whistle blows, their title credentials will look much clearer.

When it comes to team selection, most of Liverpool’s team picks itself, with a few injuries getting in the way but the lineup unlikely to be much different from the 3-0 win over Brentford at Anfield.

Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk are shoo-ins to start at the back, while Kostas Tsimikas is favourite to get the nod over Joe Gomez at left-back, even though the latter brings more defensive solidity in that position.

In midfield, Alexis Mac Allister will return to the No.6 role after suspension, joining Dominik Szoboszlai in the middle of the park, while Curtis Jones and Ryan Gravenberch will fight for the other spot, perhaps depending on who is deemed the fittest after recent absences from the team.

Mohamed Salah, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nuñez may start in attack, but Diogo Jota’s good form could easily see him get the nod over one of the two late-returning South Americans.

Jurgen Klopp - Pro Shots

Jurgen Klopp, ProShots

Arguably the toughest call Klopp has to make is whether to go with Ibrahima Konatre or Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk at centre-back, in what is easily the most important game of the season so far.

If any right-minded Liverpool fan had been asked this question last season, it would have been a no-brainer, with Konate chasms ahead of Matip in the pecking order, at a time when the latter was enduring a terrible run of form.

Things have changed in 2023/24, however, with the veteran central defender enjoying a pleasing return to his best, looking like the Matip of old instead of the cumbersome presence so often on show last term.

Konate, meanwhile, has generally performed well when he has been available, but his constant injury problems are now starting to become a cause of concern, leading to doubts over him being the long-term heir to Van Dijk as the leader of the back-line for years to come.

Ibrahima Konate - Pro Shots

Ibrahima Konate, ProShots

Just five Premier League starts have come the Frenchman’s way, and it has meant he has struggled to get any momentum going, even looking rattled at times in the draw away to Luton.

In fairness, during that time, Konate has still enjoyed a 92.3% pass completion rate and averaged 2.6 clearances per game, both of which suggest he has performed solidly and not let the team down.

It is more the injuries that have been most frustrating, and he cannot afford to be even slightly off the pace if he wants to face City.

In comparison, Matip has seven starts in the league, rarely putting a foot wrong and benefiting from actually having a midfield that can run in front of him.

His tally of 3.3 aerial duel wins per match in the league is superior to Konate’s (1.9), and he looks like a player in a good rhythm - one who will be refreshed after playing no part in the international break.

READ MORE: Joel Matip's Renaissance shows he still has plenty to offer for Liverpool

The fact that Matip hasn’t let Liverpool down at all this season, also starting the most recent game against Brentford, suggests that he is worthy of keeping his place over Konate, but there is still a nagging feeling that the France international is the superior option to go with.

The biggest reason for that is a certain Erling Haaland, whose brute strength and blistering pace could be matched best by Konate, but not Matip.

It is easy to envisage the giant Norwegian pinning himself on Matip and getting plenty of reward for it, whereas Konate could thrive physically up against him, enjoying the contest more and helping negate one of the world's most feared players.

His recovery pace could be so important against a City side that move the ball so fast and have such speed on the break, acting as another reason for Klopp to go with him.

When arguing in favour of Matip, it could certainly be claimed that he is less rash in the tackle than Konate at times, with his experience needed in such an enormous game, allowing Liverpool to be more settled in a potentially feisty encounter.

Ultimately, it is a decision that you could see going either way, with Klopp’s loyalty to in-form and available players easily leading to him going for Matip, who has looked so assured next to Van Dijk throughout the campaign to date.

For all the Cameroonian's impressive form, though, Konate is still the all-round better option, and his aforementioned key attributes are more suited up against Haaland, who so often proves to be the difference-maker for City.

As mentioned, his form has been perfectly good, even if Matip is arguably enjoying the better campaign currently, so throwing him in wouldn't feel like a risk.

Leaving Matip out would feel harsh, and his performances this season mean we should feel confident about him playing if Klopp chooses him, but Konate should get the nod, on a day when he really needs to find top gear.

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