Editor’s Column: Criticism of Ibrahima Konate is weird… And watching Thiago is something else

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Analysis of underperforming Liverpool players in the media and the fanbase is complicated.

Usually, a factually poor performance is then exaggerated by one of the above, before the other either jumps on this and doubles down or alternatively, fights back.

Then, emotional arguments about what it means to be a real fan take over and you’re forced to put your flag in the ‘he’s good’ or the ‘he’s bad’ ground.

Worst of all, whataboutery then slips into debates and it’s assumed that praising Jordan Henderson is a criticism of Naby Keita, or wanting Kostas Tsimikas to get a start is writing off Andy Robertson.

Ibrahima Konate, our central defensive summer signing from RB Leipzig, is the latest player to enter this cycle of online discussion, hyperbole and subsequent reactionary fury – both from journalists and supporters.

I’d rather deal with the facts than form a decisive opinion of a 22-year-old whose played four Premier League matches in total – winning three and conceding just two goals so far – by the way.

In his six matches in all competitions, we’ve won five and the only games we let in goals was the strange 2-2 draw with Brighton, in which the more senior pros were just as culpable.

That, in anyone’s book, is a pretty good start.

Konate has done some really good things and had some iffy moments, most of which we’ve got away with thanks to the superb team-mates around him.

That’s positive, though. He’s developing alongside Alisson and Virgil van Dijk – so his mistakes will be less costly and eventually ironed out…

This season he’ll rotate with the excellent Joel Matip and hopefully Joe Gomez too when the Englishman’s back fit. Van Dijk is getting back to his unrivalled best and Ali’s been impressive since the West Ham defeat – which Konate had no part of, by the way.

Most importantly, Jurgen Klopp clearly rates him – and how many times has the manager been wrong? The boss doesn’t pick duds and we should be mighty excited to have a centre-back with such enormous potential playing next to the best on the planet in said position. Sometimes, we forget how lucky we are.

Could this be the best Premier League title race ever?

If Liverpool had been the side we are now in the first two years of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure, we’d have waltzed to the Premier League title.

The level of the competition, due to our development and the brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City though, has gone through the roof.

Chelsea decided they wanted to come to the party and spent monstrous sums and made a superb managerial appointment in Thomas Tuchel.

It’s resulted in arguably the three best sides on the planet – with the three best managers – competing for the same domestic league title.

Only Bayern Munich could be in the argument. PSG are a set of galacticos, not a team – look how City played them off the park in the Champions League last week.

In lots of ways, it’s annoying that maybe the best side in Liverpool history is competing against genuinely great teams – but won’t it make it all the sweeter if we end up on top?

The march to the title in 2019/20 was legendary, but imagine if it went down to the wire with three sides all fighting it out – what a season we could end up with!

What’s funnier is at the beginning of the term, Manchester United were actually shorter odds in the bookies than us. How crazy does that seem now?

A healthy Thiago in a healthy Liverpool team is a joy to behold

Before the season kicked off, I predicted huge things for Thiago. I wrote a column dedicated to the Spaniard, who is probably my favourite footballer to watch.

“The fact the world is less excited about Thiago in Liverpool red is probably a good thing. He knows there is competition for his spot internally, but in terms of talent and high-level experience, he has the highest ceiling of all of our midfielders – and finally will have the opportunity to show this in a healthy, fully-functioning team,” I said.

An injury stunted this after a positive start to the campaign but his performances in the past 10 days have been monumental. The wondergoal v FC Porto capped a Man of the Match outing, and he backed it up by running the show v Southampton on Saturday.

Three times has Thiago started alongside Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in the Premier League now. That’s a travesty in itself, but on each occasion, they’ve worked superbly as a unit – with the defensive positioning and physicality of Fabinho allowing Hendo to run, fight and pass and Thiago to pull the strings.

For Liverpool, he’s playing a more advanced role than he did at Bayern Munich, when he was often the deepest midfielder, and I’m all for it. His creativity far surpasses his midfield teammates and his rashness in the tackle is less dangerous in more advanced positions.

Klopp is playing it smart with the Spaniard; withdrawing him on the hour mark, with games already won. This will hopefully protect his body and allow him the chance to build up rhythm.

Our best football last term came when he and Fabinho got a run in midfield together, and that was with Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips behind them – so we can hope for much more in 2021/22.

Like with Keita, there’s a feeling that an injury is just around the corner. Naby though has been excellent himself when fit, so perhaps they can take it in turns to provide the pizzazz and guile our midfield lacks without them.

Most of the squad is returning to fitness now and Liverpool are usually exceptional in December. Let’s hope we can set ourselves up for January when we’ll lose Mo Salah and Sadio Mane to the AFCON.

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