Liverpool have come across a very useful problem – they have four top-class centre backs. Klopp’s dilemma is to find the perfect man to partner the widely regarded best centre back in the world, Virgil van Dijk.
Joël Matip, Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté are the men in contention for a consistent place in the side, but who deserves it most?
It seems unfair for Joël Matip to be in this conversation as he’s arguably been Liverpool’s best defender this season, even better than van Dijk.
For a while now, Matip has been Liverpool’s second best centre-back quite comfortably. He first excelled in 2018/19, contributing significantly to Liverpool’s Champions League triumph, he even assisted Divock Origi’s goal in the final.
Ever since this time, he’s not dropped in form at all. He’s intelligent, consistent and the defender fans will be most comfortable seeing on the team sheet. Not only is he a top-quality defender, he progresses the ball incredibly well. He averaged 70 passes per game, with a 90% completion rate.
Not just a progressor through passing; Matip is in the 95th percentile for ball carrying as a centre back – he averages almost six carries a game. Matip isn’t in this debate because there’s a question over his qualities, he is one of the most underrated centre-backs in football; it’s more to do with the quality of his competitors.
For me, he’s the main rival to Joël Matip’s place in the side. He’s got the perfect balance of Gomez and Matip whilst being younger than both of them. Konaté has impressed in the short time he’s played at Liverpool, with a 100% clean sheet ratio: three games played, three clean sheets.
The way he kept Cristiano Ronaldo silent at Old Trafford quite effortlessly was spectacular, especially considering he was targeted clearly by Ronaldo. He won every header, progressed the ball well and won every 50/50. Ibou [Konate] hasn’t been dribbled past so far this season.
If you combined Virgil, Gomez and Matip you’d have Konate. Obviously not at their exact levels, but you can see he possesses their qualities and will be a world-class centre back in the future.
Whilst he hasn’t featured much for Liverpool this season, Liverpool fans won’t forget how good the partnership of Van Dijk and Gomez is. Whilst perhaps Gomez might not be as good as the other two defenders he’s competing with, he might just have the best connection on the pitch with the Dutch international.
Just use 2018/19 as an example – Liverpool had conceded just seven goals by Christmas with them at the heart of defence. Unfortunately, Gomez broke his leg shortly after this and Matip broke into the team. Gomez isn’t in his prime either; he’s only 24 and is learning from 31-year-old van Dijk and 30-year-old Matip every single day in training.
It’s clear that Gomez and Konate will be the partnership in the future, but right now Gomez has a fight on his hands to beat Konate and Matip to partner Liverpool’s number 4.
Who should it be, then?
All three players are 100% good enough, and would do a very efficient job at the back for Liverpool. For me, Joël Matip is still the best, and the most comfortable. However, if you replace him with either Gomez or Konate, there’s not gonna be much of a difference.
Liverpool have a very, very helpful ‘problem’ on their books – definitely a problem they wish they had last season.