Konaté growing into Liverpool role and partnership with Van Dijk | Liverpool

Simone Inzaghi tried to remain upbeat throughout his post-match press conference but, in keeping with Internazionale’s entire night against Liverpool at San Siro, a positive performance came with a sting at the end.

Inter’s coach described their display as “probably our best game of the season” considering they were facing “one of the best teams in Europe” and stated several times that he was proud of the Italian champions’ tireless shift. Only the fine margins had gone against them, he continued, with Roberto Firmino’s glancing 75th-minute header the decisive detail. And then came the sting, or perhaps just the reality.

“We don’t have much hope now,” Inzaghi admitted. It has been drained by Liverpool’s ruthlessness, their set-piece prowess, the impact of Jürgen Klopp’s high-calibre substitutes and the commanding partnership of Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konaté in the heart of the visitors’ defence. The growing understanding between the pair provided a platform for Liverpool’s late victory and Inter’s understandable lament.

It seems a statistical error that, after an open and hugely entertaining game in which Ivan Perisic wreaked havoc down Liverpool’s right for a sustained spell after half-time, neither Alisson nor his Inter counterpart Samir Handanovic made a save between them. Liverpool scored with their two attempts on target, from 12 overall, while the hosts failed to find the target from nine attempts. The determined, organised and intelligent defending in front of Alisson had a greater influence on his clean sheet than any profligacy on Inter’s part.

Wednesday was only the eighth time that Van Dijk and Konaté have started together since the latter’s £36m arrival from RB Leipzig last summer. Their partnership is at the fledgling stage and to lavish it with praise is not to undermine Joël Matip’s continued claims as the polished, often unsung foil to Van Dijk. Matip has much more to contribute than smacking his teammates’ heads while they celebrated Firmino’s goal at San Siro, and receiving a deathly stare back from Jordan Henderson for his troubles.

But Konaté and Van Dijk complemented each other superbly in the last-16 first leg in Milan, dealing with the physical threat of Edin Dzeko, stifling Lautaro Martínez throughout and curbing Perisic’s probing crosses with countless interceptions. Van Dijk, having worked his way back to imperious form, gave the 22-year-old Konaté licence to defend impressively on the front foot in the safe knowledge his back was covered. They were dominant against Inter’s set pieces – in contrast to their opposite numbers in the decisive closing stage – and Dzeko’s pained expression when clean through on the stroke of half-time, only for Van Dijk to cruise past and roll the ball back to Alisson, encapsulated Inter’s torment in front of goal. That recurring dream of running nowhere fast was played out in real time by Dzeko.

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Klopp has adopted a careful integration policy with his summer signing, similar in some respects to Andy Robertson’s first season as a Liverpool player, but Konaté is pressing his claims for a more regular role with every start. Liverpool’s season is brimming with the expectation and hope that disappeared from Inter in Milan.

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