This time last year was a very different period for Virgil van Dijk, who was in the process of returning from a serious knee injury.
As a result of that setback, the Dutch defender missed the majority of the 2020-21 season, in which Liverpool struggled in their defence of the Premier League title.
However, with Van Dijk back and a new face through the door in Ibrahima Konate, who arrived from RB Leipzig, Jurgen Klopp’s side were ready to mount a challenge for all the major trophies last term.
They fell narrowly short of winning an unprecedented quadruple, but still managed to secure the EFL and FA Cups, while reaching the Champions League final and finishing second in the league by just one point, boasting the joint-best defensive record alongside champions Manchester City (26 goals conceded).
Konate was eased in at Anfield by Klopp, but still made 29 appearances in all competitions during his debut campaign with the Reds, and Van Dijk has waxed lyrical about the ability and potential of the France international.
Speaking to the club’s official website during a pre-season training camp in Austria, Van Dijk said: “[Konate is] a very, very good player.
“What I like the most about him is [his] will to learn each and every day as well.
“Obviously there are loads of things that can improve – and that’s good because he has time, he needs the experience. In my opinion, experience is a big thing for a centre-half to learn and to take with you.
“In his case, I’m very happy to see him develop, I’m very happy to see him shine on and off the pitch, he’s a fantastic character.”
1 – Ibrahima Konaté is the first French player to score for Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League since David N’Gog against Debreceni in November 2009. Cocorico. #BENLIV pic.twitter.com/2rGhzVbm7D
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) April 5, 2022
Konate will hope to be part of Didier Deschamps’ France squad which defends the World Cup in Qatar later this year, but another Reds defender perhaps has more work to do to appear at the tournament.
Joe Gomez also missed a big chunk of the 2020-21 campaign with an injury picked up on England duty, and has not been selected for a Three Lions squad since.
The 25-year-old recently signed a new contract at Liverpool, despite only making 21 appearances last season (11 starts), several of which came at right-back as Klopp preferred Konate or Joel Matip at centre-back.
But after playing regularly alongside Gomez during Liverpool’s Premier League title-winning season in 2019-20, Van Dijk was pleased to see him sign a new deal and believes he may even be England’s best defender when fit.
“We spoke about it before he signed the deal and I’m just very happy that he’s staying at the club, staying with me. Also, I’m happy for the club that he’s signed,” the former Celtic and Southampton man said.
“He is, in my opinion, [one of] if not the best English centre-back around. Obviously we’ve both been very unlucky with the injuries we had. His time will come again and hopefully this season he can show that.”
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