Premier League • England

Mark Lawrenson warns Liverpool star ‘disappears’ and feels sorry for Van Dijk clearing up the mess

Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate

Ibrahima Konate needs to work on his positioning at Liverpool to alleviate the pressure on Virgil van Dijk, according to Mark Lawrenson.

Frenchman Konate moved to Anfield last summer to bolster the Reds’ ranks following a defensive injury nightmare. Indeed, Jurgen Klopp lost Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez last term.

As a result, the manager made sure Liverpool took no chances by paying £36million to RB Leipzig to sign Konate. The 22-year-old has made 19 appearances in all competitions as the third-choice centre-back at Liverpool this term.

While Van Dijk and Matip are Klopp’s favoured pairing, Konate usually steps in to keep injury-prone Matip’s minutes in check.

Konate and Van Dijk recently featured together in the FA Cup quarter-final win over Nottingham Forest. They also played as a pair in the 1-0 Premier League win over West Ham earlier this month.

And former Reds defender Lawrenson picked Konate’s performances apart in those two matches.

The pundit told Off the Ball: “Konate is learning, we know he’s going to be good, great physique, quick enough.

“I just think defensively if you watch yesterday and if you watched West Ham as well, he disappears at times from his position and as good as Van Dijk is, he can’t put his finger in the dike every time something happens.

“It’s something Konate’s learning. They’ve got Matip anyway to play there so it’s not a great issue, he will only get better.

“But to be beaten on a regular basis by a ball through the middle is not good and I’m sure Jurgen knows that. Konate’s just learning I’m afraid. Fortunately, they got away with a couple of issues like that.”

Indeed, Forest thought they had a penalty when James Garner slipped Ryan Yates in with a through-ball. Yates went down under a challenge from Alisson Becker, but the referee waved the spot-kick appeals away.

Konate features in Liverpool defensive issues

Ibrahima Konate, Crystal Palace v Liverpool January 2022

Lawrenson was speaking about the wider issues in Liverpool’s defence. Against Forest, Gomez played right-back in the absence of the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold.

While the pundit admitted that Liverpool would like Alexander-Arnold’s creativity, he stressed that Gomez gives the Reds more defensive comfort.

“When he first came into the team under Brendan Rodgers, he played left-back if my memory serves me right,” Lawrenson said. “I don’t have an issue with him, I think he’s a better defender than Trent.

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“He obviously doesn’t give you what Trent gives you going forward, but that’s not a great issue in Liverpool’s team because they’ve got so many creative players anyway. I don’t see that as a great problem.

“[Kostas] Tsimikas is two-footed, he could play right-back if you really wanted him to.”

Liverpool squad depth crucial

Despite the criticism of Konate, Liverpool are in a much better defensive situation than they were this time last year.

Indeed, Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip were all out. While Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams performed well instead, Liverpool lost their shape and rhythm provided by their senior players.

However, they ground out results and eventually rose to third in the Premier League table.

That saw them retain their Champions League status for this season, with the Reds now facing Benfica for a place in the semi-finals.

Klopp resolved his selection issues with the signing of Konate. The Reds also kept Williams back as a fifth-choice centre-back in January following his return from a loan spell at Swansea.

Gomez may play the least of Liverpool’s senior centre-backs, but he has proved useful at right-back in Alexander-Arnold’s absence.