Naby Keita has emerged as one of Liverpool’s priority transfer targets over the last few months and their pursuit of the RB Leipzig midfielder is beginning to heat up. Goal report that the Reds are leading the chase for one of the hottest properties in European football, while the Mirror state that they are prepared to smash their transfer record to land the 22-year-old. That currently stands at £35 million, which they paid for Andy Carroll in January 2011. That was a panic buy and one that didn’t pay off for the Reds, but Keita would represent a much smarter piece of business and has the quality to live up to his big price tag.
The rumoured fee is £50 million and Klopp is prepared to put that on the table to seal a deal. It won’t be a straightforward deal to complete though, as the Bundesliga club want to keep hold of their star midfielder ahead of their first ever Champions League campaign. Meanwhile, the Reds will fear the possibility of other clubs gazumping them at the last moment, as has been the case on a few occasions in recent years. Keita has been one of the best midfielders in Europe this season and he would represent a coup for Liverpool.
What is his style of play?
The 22-year-old is a complete midfielder and one that is capable of taking on different roles in the middle of the park. He thrives as a box-to-box midfielder, but he would also be able to play as a ball-winner or an advanced playmaker. Klopp has used a 4-3-3 formation for the majority of his career with defined roles for each of the midfielders. Keita could take on any of those roles, but he is best when he is given the freedom to get up and down the pitch in a box-to-box role. He is full of energy, which will suit the high intensity of Klopp’s style of play, while he has the technical ability to contribute in both halves of the pitch. There will be some media outlets that compare him to Ngolo Kante if he does join Liverpool, but the truth is that he offers far more than the Chelsea midfielder in the attacking half.
Keita has the physical attributes to thrive in a team managed by Jurgen Klopp. He was very impressive out of possession in the Bundesliga, averaging 2.05 tackles and 3.05 interceptions per ninety minutes. The 22-year-old has an excellent awareness of what is going on around him and is a good presser of the ball. Although he is tenacious in central areas, he received only eight bookings, which isn’t a respectable tally for a player in his midfield role. In attack, he is excellent to watch and capable of breaking down resolute defences. His contribution of eight goals and seven assists is a good return for a central midfielder. Liverpool need their midfielders to contribute in the final third and Keita can certainly do that.
During the Bundesliga season, he averaged 1.27 key passes, 1.53 chances created and 1.6 shots per ninety minutes. These are good numbers for a central midfielder and his ability to contribute in the final third separate him from other players that are primarily ball-winners. Kante has become better in possession since joining Chelsea, but he only averaged 0.6 key passes, 0.63 chances created and 0.77 shots per ninety minutes. It is clear that Keita is a complete midfielder and it would be an excellent signing for Liverpool if they manage to complete a £50 million transfer.
Where would he fit in at Anfield?
If he does end up moving to Merseyside, it is safe to assume that he would immediately go into the side’s starting eleven. The difficulty is judging which role he will take on. He is best in a box-to-box midfield role, which suggests that it could be Gini Wijnaldum that drops out of the side, but that would be harsh on the Dutchman. The reason Klopp wants Keita is that he offers tactical flexibility and he is able to play in any of the three midfield roles. His arrival will cause all of the midfielders in the squad to sit up and take notice, which will lead to an improvement across the board.
Competition is a great thing to have in a squad and Keita would offer competition for every single role. It could be that Klopp uses him in the advanced midfield role in place of Adam Lallana, or that he changed to the 4-4-2 diamond formation permanently. This would see Emre Can play the anchor role, Wijnaldum and Keita perform the box-to-box roles and Phillipe Coutinho operate behind the two strikers.
The signing of Keita would give Jurgen Klopp options and increase the competition in midfield. That can only be considered a positive and at only 22, he has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in Europe. This would be a great signing and one that would send a statement to the rest of Europe.