Liverpool had a staggering TWENTY different centre back pairings last season with favoured duo Virgil van Dijk and Gomez conceding the most goals… but where does new £36m signing Ibrahima Konate fit in Jurgen Klopp’s defensive plans for the new campaign?
- Liverpool’s first-choice duo of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez played four matches
- Yet the pair conceded the most goals in the first month of the 2020-21 campaign
- But now Liverpool have brought in French defender Ibrahima Konate for £36m
- RB Leipzig won 67 per cent of the games they played with Konate at centre back
- Sportsmail takes a statistical look at all of Jurgen Klopp’s centre back options
In a difficult 2020-21 season which ended on a high, Liverpool played a grand total of 20 different centre back pairings amid a horrendous injury crisis.
Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip missed most of the campaign with long-term injuries, leaving Jurgen Klopp no alternative but to play midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as the defensive pairing at times.
But now the Reds’ defence has been bolstered after Ibrahima Konate joined the club last week on a £36million transfer from RB Leipzig. And with Van Dijk and Gomez slowly but surely on the mend, Sportsmail takes a look at the stats as Klopp mulls over his defensive options ahead of the new season in August.
Ibrahima Konate (right) will join Liverpool in a boost to Jurgen Klopp’s defensive options
Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez missed most of the 2020-21 campaign due to long-term injuries
LIVERPOOL’S CENTRE BACK INJURIES
Virgil van Dijk: October 2020-present (ruptured cruciate ligament)
Joel Matip: Sept 13-Oct 16 (thigh), Oct 18-Nov 3 (knock), Dec 14-Dec 18 (back), Dec 28-Jan 20 (groin), Jan 29- present (ankle)
Joe Gomez: Nov 11-present (patella)
Jordan Henderson: Oct 2-Oct 3 (hip), Nov 16-Nov 27 (knock), Feb 26-April 1 (groin)
Fabinho: Oct 27-Nov 21 (hamstring), Jan 26-Feb 6 (muscular problems), Feb 11-Mar 1 (muscle injury)
Ozan Kabak: Mar 6-Mar 8 (hip), May 4-May 24 (muscle)
Rhys Williams: Nov 15-Nov 24 (groin)
Liverpool’s favoured pairing of Van Dijk and Gomez only played four games last season, but shockingly conceded ten goals – the most of any pairing.
Both are expected to return to the starting XI at the beginning of next season, but Konate’s arrival could provide Klopp with a new pairing.
The France Under 21 international made 21 appearances for RB Leipzig last season, including eight in the Bundesliga as the club finished second behind Bayern Munich.
His influence on the team’s displays is clear – Leipzig won 67 per cent of the games Konate played in, compared to 52 per cent without him.
The German side let in 24 goals in the 21 games Konate played in, with an average of 1.1 goals conceded.
The 22-year-old’s performances impressed Klopp enough to make him his first signing this summer and could earn him a starting place alongside first-choice centre back Van Dijk, demoting Gomez and Matip to the bench.
However, Matip could be the ideal partner to start alongside Konate instead, according to statistics provided by Opta.
In all eight games Van Dijk played last season, he had a surprising average of 2 goals conceded – higher than regular partner Gomez who conceded an average of 1.4. Only Matip bettered Konate with an average of 1.
Equally, Liverpool won only 50 per cent of games when van Dijk and Matip played – in any pairing – and 58.3 per cent with Gomez.
Joel Matip (centre) struggled with injuries, meaning Fabinho (R) filled in at centre back at times
As for Fabinho, the Brazilian – whose natural position is in midfield – played in four different partnership, keeping six clean sheets in total. Only Nat Phillips kept more with seven.
The injuries especially troubled Liverpool when Klopp resorted to playing the partnership of Henderson and Fabinho midway through the season – the pairing conceded five goals in four games but did manage one clean sheet.
Phillips and Rhys Williams became the regular partnership at the tail-end of the season, helping to secure a top-four place and Champions League football next season.
Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams saw out the season together as the Reds finished in the top four
The pairing played seven games together and kept three clean sheets – the second highest behind Matip and Fabinho.
Yet the young pair are likely to return to injury-cover duty with the arrival of Konate and the return of van Dijk, Matip and Gomez in the near future.
As for January loanee Ozan Kabak, he featured in Liverpool’s most-regularly used pairing, alongside Phillips.
Jurgen Klopp has snubbed the chance to sign defender Ozan Kabak on a permanent transfer
Liverpool signed Kabak on loan from Schalke as defensive cover, but the Turkey international does not seem to be making the move a permanent one given Konate’s arrival last week.
Kabak will return to Schalke at the end of his loan deal despite Liverpool having the option to buy, with clubs such as Leicester and Leipzig interested.
However despite his imminent departure, it seems unlikely that Klopp will be troubled again with a defensive crisis as severe as last season. What’s left to decide now is, who will start in that opening league game in just over two months time?