By Carl Markham, PA
Liverpool are pursuing a £35million deal for RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate to bolster their centre-back options for the new season.
A third-place finish which guaranteed Champions League football – something which had looked highly unlikely with 10 matches to go – has given the club the confidence to press ahead with their interest in the 22-year-old.
The PA news agency understands the France Under-21 international’s release clause of 41million euros (£35.5m) has not yet been triggered but that Liverpool have stepped up their pursuit of a player who was identified as a primary target earlier in the year, even before the Reds drew his Bundesliga side in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Interest in Konate means the club will not be taking up the £18million option to make Ozan Kabak’s loan from Schalke permanent.
The 21-year-old was signed in January, along with Preston’s Ben Davies, who failed to make an appearance for them in the final four months of the season, as cover for their trio of injured centre-backs Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.
All three are expected to be fit for pre-season and with Konate top of their list of targets, the future of Nat Phillips, who deputised so well in his breakthrough season, will come under scrutiny.
The 24-year-old, who was on the verge of a loan move to Swansea in October, made 20 appearances this season and became something of a cult hero with fans, but while his aerial prowess was a welcome addition for Jurgen Klopp’s side, his lack of pace is likely to count against him in the long run.
Rhys Williams, the 20-year-old who made 19 appearances and finished the season as Phillips’ regular partner, is likely to be retained with a view to sending out on loan a player who 18 months ago had a temporary spell at Kidderminster in the National League North.