Ibrahimovic was right about "great" Liverpool star who has huge future under Jürgen Klopp
Ibrahima Konaté's recent performances have earned praise from no less a figure than Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Frenchman was impressive again against Newcastle
Zlatan Ibrahimović doesn’t hand out praise lightly.
The iconic 40-year-old has made a career out of bestowing the virtues of his own footballing abilities, but it takes a lot for the Swede to publicly do the same for another colleague.
Such praise was given to Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté in the aftermath of Liverpool’s 2-1 win against Milan at San Siro at the beginning of December. Ibrahimović started the game for the Rossoneri, with the Italian side still having faint hopes of making it through with the Reds to the last 16.
Liverpool, however, were simply too strong for Milan, and emerged with their sixth victory of the group stage thanks to goals from Divock Origi and Mohamed Salah.
Ibrahimović, starved of all service by his lacklustre teammates, was ineffective throughout the game. He was also well marshalled by Konaté, and in a post-game interview, said as much.
"I asked to exchange shirts with Liverpool defender Konaté," remarked the striker. "He won all the fights with me on the ground and in the air. I told him that he will be a great defender in the future and that he remembers my words well."
After a slow start to the season, an adjustment period that most players face when they arrive at Anfield, Konaté is now starting to flourish, and show why the club paid £36m to sign him from RB Leipzig last summer.
He’s been used infrequently in the opening half of the season, in for one game, out for the next four. This affected his game as he couldn’t build up any rhythm. But in his most recent games, he’s performed admirably when called upon by Jürgen Klopp.
In the games against Southampton and Newcastle, Konaté produced flawless performances at the back no matter who he was partnered with. So far this season we have seen the trio of Konaté, Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip all rotated, with Joe Gomez to a lesser extent.
Van Dijk and Matip have been Klopp’s preferred partnership in the early going this season, and it’s not difficult to see why. The pair have formed a solid understanding at the back, and this has forced Konaté to bide his time.
The same issue befell Andy Robertson when he first arrived at the club from Hull City, and now look at the Scottish captain.
He’s made eight starts so far in all competitions, and as we enter the busy season of Christmas football, the Frenchman will almost certainly get more games under his belt. With Matip and Van Dijk now on the wrong side of 30, Konaté is the future of Liverpool.
He’s also slowly adapting to the way Klopp wants his defenders to play. Against Newcastle, Konaté performed some 70 carries of the ball during the match, taking the ball an accumulative 232 yards into the Newcastle half.
This is the aggressive and proactive approach Klopp demands from his defenders. Both Matip and Konaté acted as the instigators of Liverpool’s play, which in turn offered different solutions as Newcastle packed out their own half.
Joining a club the stature of Livepool is never easy, but Konaté is finding his feet, one game at a time.
When you impress Ibrahimović, you know you are going places.