Naby Keita was a priority target by Jurgen Klopp, which was shown by Liverpool’s willingness to arrange a 2018 summer transfer a year in advance. It was thought that the midfielder would be the perfect fit for the German’s style, as he can excel in a number of central roles. There have been flashes of brilliance from the Guinea international, but injuries have prevented him from locking down a regular starting role. Supporters and coaching staff alike will be hoping that 2020 is his year to breakthrough at Anfield. His return comes at the perfect time for the Reds, as he can breathe fresh momentum into their challenge on multiple fronts.
At the age of 25, time is still on Keita’s side and he will be aided by Liverpool’s dominant league position. There is no pressure on him to find his stride immediately and that will be beneficial for him during his return. This season, he has become a forgotten man, playing only 227 minutes in the Premier League. Interestingly, he has played more minutes in the Champions League. There will be a hunger to play a part in the Reds’ probable Premier League title triumph over the coming months.
Since moving to Anfield, he has played 1,621 minutes in the Premier League. To put that into context, Jordan Henderson has played 1,801 minutes in this season alone. There is a feeling among supporters that Keita’s Liverpool career has yet to take off and there is still a lot to learn about him. It may be a cliche, but he will be ‘like a new signing’ in the coming weeks.
At the beginning of December, the 25-year-old delivered his most complete and impressive Liverpool performance to date against Bournemouth. Although he managed to contribute a goal and an assist, it was his overall performance that will have encouraged Klopp, as he added dynamism in the middle of the park. Keita had three attempts on goal, made three key passes and five ball recoveries. This was an all-action display that showed his quality both on and off the ball.
The most impressive part of this performance was his passing, which may have gone under the radar considering his eye-catching contribution in the final third. The Liverpool midfielder completed attempted 95 passes and had a very high completion rate of 95%. This emphasises his intelligence on the ball and the value of him in the transition phase. He was regularly trying to be positive in possession and was the standout player on the pitch.
It was only one match, but it showed the improvement made by Keita since his arrival on these shores. Given the team’s incredible form, the midfielder will be aware of the difficulty that faces him to secure a regular starting berth. Fabinho and Henderson are locked in the midfield, while Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will both be pressing for starts. However, those that watched Keita regularly in Germany will suggest that he has the highest ceiling of the three players. He is also the youngest.
The next few months will be exciting for Liverpool supporters, as they close in on their first ever Premier League title. The emergence of Naby Keita could be a wonderful footnote in that story.