Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konaté followed in some esteemed Champions League footsteps against Benfica this evening.
The 22-year-old centre-back made his fifth appearance in Europe’s premier club competition this season — all of which have been starts — when he filled in for Virgil van Dijk and lined up alongside Joël Matip in the heart of Jurgen Klopp’s defence.
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Konaté, a summer recruit having joined from RB Leipzig, has primarily served in a back-up role since relocating from Germany. To date, he’s made 20 appearances in all competitions. That being said, with the Reds in such a position of strength, Klopp rewarded the Frenchman with another starting berth and to say he once again repaid his manager’s faith would be an understatement.
In the opening leg, which saw Liverpool run out comfortable 1-3 winners, Konaté put Klopp’s men in front when he met an Andrew Robertson cross. It was a near replica in Merseyside when the game’s deadlock was also broken inside 25 minutes.
Konaté in the 21st minute — four minutes later than his Lisbon effort — popped up to net the opener. Again teed up by the starting left-back — but this time it was Kostas Tsimikas — he joins an exclusive group.
🅰️ Robertson 🅰️ Tsimikas
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Before this evening, just three Liverpool players managed to score in both quarter-final legs of a Champions League knockout fixture. Konaté now sits alongside Peter Crouch (against PSV, 2006-07), Mohamed Salah (against Manchester City, 2017-18) and Roberto Firmino (against FC Porto, 2018-19).
Not only that, he’s also the fifth Frenchman to achieve this feat after Nicolas Ouédec, Christian Karembeu, Kylian Mbappé and Karim Benzema — the latter, who many are tipping for this year’s Ballon d’Or award, only did so less than 24 hours before Konaté.
Incredibly, both of these efforts are Konaté’s first two for the club. In the previous Benfica meeting, he was equally responsible for the Eagles’ consolation goal, which only further highlights Konaté is still a work in progress.
Benfica rallied at Anfield and found the net on three occasions, again somewhat an indictment on Konaté, though it’s fair to say life in England has started promisingly. That is understandably encouraging for Klopp, who is a coach that’s always looking at the bigger picture.
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“First and foremost, what players always should be: they should be themselves in the first moment,” he said earlier this year.
“But one thing is the analysis you do before you sign a player; the other thing is what you see when you have him really around and on the training ground.
“He played games pretty early for us and I think we all agree he is an exceptional talent: physically outstanding, good footballer as well. When you are that skilled, that quick, that strong, it’s pretty normal — especially when you are young — that your concentration level drops from time to time.
“Tactically, we played obviously very different to Leipzig; they played quite frequently there with three in the back, which is different as well. He had to adapt and has to adapt still to his teammates left and right of him, all these kind of things.
“On top of that, we have with Virgil, Joe and Joel three more, from my point of view, world-class centre-halves. So, that’s the situation. We just couldn’t go in the season again with three centre-halves, especially with three coming back from long-term injuries.
“We needed to do that and now it’s about just using the moments you get, using the minutes you get, using the games you get and bring yourself in the best possible shape and deliver when you are on the pitch. That’s what he is doing, so all fine.”