Dire defensive stat for Liverpool highlights lack of playing time for elite pairing

With the Reds struggling defensively this season, two players stand out as being crucial for their solidity.

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Liverpool’s defence conceded three goals away at Wolverhampton Wanderes in their most recent Premier League outing. It was another disappointing display and those goals meant that Jurgen Klopp’s side have now conceded more this season than they did for the whole of last year in the league.

What’s even more worrying is the fact that away from home in 2023, they’ve crumbled and conceded three goals away at Wolves, Brentford and Brighton. The lacklustre midfield has been regularly criticised but there’s a key partnership that Liverpool fans will be eager to see once again, as it was the bedrock for a quadruple challenge last season.

Virgil Van Dijk and Ibrahim Konate stand out as Liverpool’s best two centre-backs and their best pairing in the heart of defence. However, injuries to both this season have hugely restricted their time together on the pitch and it’s shown in the team’s defensive performances.

This year, the pair have only played 186 minutes together. Last season was Konate’s first at the club, as he managed 29 games in all competitions, but he stood out in the Champions League final and is now a key player at the club. Without those two commanding Liverpool’s extremely high defensive line, teams have felt confident in taking them on.

Injuries have been detrimental to both, especially Konate, who has only managed seven starts this year. A knee injury suffered at the start of August saw him miss nine games and his injury record at 23-years-old isn’t promising long-term. When he has played, however, he’s been brilliant.

Ranking extremely highly for tackles, aerials won, non-penalty goals and progressive passes illustrates a top-level, modern-day centre-back. It’s no shock he outperforms the likes of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez for tackles and aerials - but even just when watching games, you can see how commanding and physcially impressive he is compared to the other two defenders.

In terms of Van Dijk, his levels may have dropped this season, but they’ve only dropped from what was the absolute elite form he’s produced since he signed in 2018. Currently, he’s been out with a hamstring injury, missing seven games, but he’s due to return to full-team training.

Konate and Van Dijk have just missed each other this season in terms of when either one has been unavailable, and it’s had a bearing on Liverpool’s poor fortunes. Their last clean sheet in the league, other than Chelsea recently, was back in mid-October and their 3-0 loss at the hands of Wolves saw them reach the unwanted achievement of concedeing more goals in the Premier League this season [27 in 20 games] than they did in the whole of last season [26 in 38 games].

Of course, there’s always Nathaniel Phillips who could return to the line-up. After all, he was key in the Reds conceding just six in 10 games at the end of the 2020/21 season to secure Champions League football amid an injury crisis, but the defender simply hasn’t been given a chance with less than 400 mins this season.

So, where does that leave Liverpool? Van Dijk is seemingly back in training, to the delight of Liverpool fans, but Konate suffered damage to his hamstring in the defeat to Brighton on January 31, meaning we won’t see this pairing reunite for at least another month, or maybe longer.

Matip is the most experienced option to play with Van Dijk, but given the Dutch international is coming off a long lay-off, its likely to be a while before Liverpool re-discover their form at the back. But time is of the essence, as Real Madrid in the Champions League looms and they need to stop the slide down the Premier League table.

No midfield recruitment has also made it difficult too and it’s clear the struggles for Klopp and Liverpool will go on for now, but those struggles could certainly be eased by the return of a Van Dijk and Konate partnership before the end of the season.