Over the past few years, a new breed of centre back has been slowly taking over football. Top clubs need centre backs who can not only defend but players who have confidence on the ball and can break lines. For a team that has conceded the least goals in the Bundesliga this season, it is no surprise that RB Leipzig have a number of talented centre backs, but today I’m going to focus on the youngest, Ibrahima Konate. Signed from FC Sochaux in 2017, Konate is a commanding, modern centre back who at only 19 years of age, is looking like joining a range of talented centre backs produced by France. It is no surprise that teams such as Arsenal have been linked with Konate recently.
This tactical analysis will show why Konate is such a talent, and unfortunately for Leipzig fans, show why he may be ready for a move elsewhere.
How does Leipzig’s system benefit him?
Leipzig’s offensive-minded system of high intensity pressing and fast attacking transition play mean that teams are often tempted to play the long ball against them, to resist being pressed. Therefore, if this does happen, Leipzig need to have players capable of winning aerial duels at the back, to utilise any threat the opposition may have and to regain possession for the team. Konate ranks 17th in the Bundesliga for aerial duels won, which is 9th for defenders, showing his expected competence in the air at 6 feet 3 inches tall. This means teams can’t target, or unsuccessfully target Konate in this area due to his lean physique and as a result, their striker struggles in the game, such as Mario Gomez did at Stuttgart last matchday, where Konate was excellent, particularly in his offside trap play.
Leipzig’s high press means that the whole team has to be higher up the pitch, meaning space is left in behind the defence for attackers to potentially exploit. Konate is lightning quick, and so if teams opt to play passes in behind Leipzig’s back line, Konate can chase back and keep up with opposition attackers, as he demonstrated against Stuttgart in beating Alexander Esswein to the ball.
But it isn’t just physically that Konate excels. He is an accomplished dribbler and is currently averaging a dribbling success rate of just under 85%, which when we compare to some Premier League centre backs (his likely destination) we can see his true qualities, which he showcased with a superb goal against Fortuna Dusseldorf.
Below we can see Konate (top) and Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk’s offensive stats compared. Konate makes more progressive runs forward on average than Van Dijk by some margin and the two have very similar successful dribble percentages. Konate is also fouled more often and wins more offensive duels on average than Van Dijk. Impressive stats all around when comparing against currently in my opinion, the best centre back in world football.
Now if we compare Konate to a starting centre back of a team that has been linked with him, Arsenal. Below I have compared Konate (top) and Mustafi’s offensive stats where again we can see Konate’s clear offensive abilities.
Konate has made more than double the number of progressive runs on average per game than Mustafi, has won more offensive duels, and has a higher successful dribble percentage. All figures which I’m sure will engage Arsenal fans and Premier League fans alike.
Where can Konate improve?
At only 19, Konate will surely continue to improve so long as he gets minutes on the pitch, but the main improvement I feel that would benefit his game the most would be to improve his passing. He has a poor pass percentage of 75.7% compared to Mustafi’s 84.1% and ranks only 44th in the Bundesliga for successful pass percentage from open play. If he can improve this, Konate will be an even greater offensive asset and will help his team to break down blocks and break lines in the opposition.
Overall, Konate has already established himself this season as one of the best centre backs in the Bundesliga despite being only 19 years old. His physical strengths are matched by his technical skills and a move to the Premier League this summer is looking more likely with every game he plays. Another season at Leipzig may benefit him though, as if he is given the opportunity to play every week in the Champions League and Bundesliga, it could be a more healthy base for his development than the harsh, unforgiving Premier League.