Jack Hallows is excited by the prospect of the Reds potentially signing Naby Keïta this summer and has had a look at where he would fit in Klopp’s system.
Let me get this first part out of the way and done with.
Naby Keïta is not N’Golo Kante.
Nor is he a number 6 in any way, shape or form. He’s a box-to-box central midfielder who can defend but can also dribble his way past multiple opposition players, tee up team mates and score incredible goals like the first one in the video below.
So, if he’s not a defensive midfielder, where would he play at Liverpool? Good question.
Liverpool’s midfield trio in 2016/17
In Jürgen Klopp’s 4-3-3, you have a midfield trio where each has a very specific role.
You have a variation on the defensive midfielder playing in Klopp’s interpretation of the ‘6,’ who sits in front of the Reds back four and operates like a possession pendulum when we have the ball. In most instances, this was Jordan Henderson last season.
The Liverpool skipper’s dynamism, agility, willingness to get stuck into tackles and impressive passing range made him the perfect fit for what Klopp wants in his ‘holding’ midfield player. Henderson’s role was to bite into the opposition’s centre forward or number 10, win the ball back and quickly set the front three on their way.
Then there’s the first of the two variants on a number 8 which became the “Wijnaldum role,” by the end of the season. Liverpool’s midfield starts in what looks like a 1-2 combination with a 6 and two 8s but ultimately staggers depending on the scenario.
The “Wijnaldum role,” is essentially an advanced version of what Henderson does for the team but with extra attacking responsibilities. It requires a player with strength, quick feet, a big engine and an ability to burst into the box undetected to cap off passing moves. This is why the Dutchman was such a perfect fit in 2016/17.
Wijnaldum was brilliant at linking the defence to the attack and, as he grew in confidence over the course of the season, he really began to shine. His goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Middlesbrough all defined the attacking side of his role as he begun in a deeper position, played a part in the initial build up and then at last second fired his way into the box, finishing off team moves.
The role also requires certain playmaker-like tendencies which, having played as a number 10 for much of his career, Wijnaldum possesses in abundance. The Dutchman registered an impressive 9 assists in the Premier League in 2016/17 and whether it was teeing up Lallana inside the box against Leicester, or playing in a perfectly weighted through ball for Sadio Mané against Tottenham, he was able to have a creative impact all over the park.
Finally, there’s the hybrid position of a ‘floating 8/deep-lying 10.’
The responsibilities of this position most often fell to Adam Lallana who thrived in the central area of the park for the first half of the season, registering 7 goals and 7 assists before the New year. The player who fills this role slots into an extra ‘floating’ 8 when on the back foot, making the formation resemble a 4-1-4-1 shape but is given license to get into the box as frequently as possible when the Reds are on the attack.
Lallana’s main forward-thinking responsibility was to get into the opposition box and contribute to a penalty area overload. His presence would either draw a defender away from one of Liverpool’s main attacking three or, if he went undetected, ensure he was best-placed to pounce on any loose balls cut across the goal mouth – see his goals against Arsenal, Leicester and Middlesbrough for prime examples.
So, let’s get to the answer you’ve all been waiting for.
Where does Naby Keïta fit into all this?
It’s my personal belief that Mohamed Salah’s presence is likely to see Coutinho pushed into a deeper role, most likely taking Lallana’s spot. When you consider this along with what I mentioned earlier about Keïta not being a number 6, you’re left with one option.
For me, the box-to-box, number 8, Wijnaldum role – whatever you want to call it – would be perfect for the RB Leipzig midfielder. From this slightly deeper role, he’d be given the chance to best display both his attacking and defensive capabilities in equal measure and contribute heavily to the team on both fronts.
In the 2016/17 Bundesliga season, Keïta contributed to 16 goals, teeing up his teammates 8 times and scoring 8 of his own but he didn’t just stop there. He also managed 1.3 key passes per 90 minutes, creating a total of 41 chances – second to only Emil Forsberg – despite not boasting any set piece responsibilities. The Leipzig midfielder also managed to complete an incredible 77 take ons coming mostly from central areas of the park, while also winning the ball back successfully with 55 tackles.
Now we come to where Keïta has drawn comparisons to N’Golo Kante; his natural ability to read the game with ease.
The Guinean made 82 interceptions last season – an average of 2.6 per 90 minutes – while also contributing an average of 4 defensive actions total per appearance. He may not be a defensive midfielder by trade but he certainly still manages to outshine a lot of them.
Keïta’s ability to be just as effective on the back foot as he is on the front foot would provide a much needed balance between defence and attack in Klopp’s midfield trio, giving Henderson/Can extra protection while also providing the German with another proven source of goals and assists in the middle of the park.
Wherever he’d end up playing, there is no doubt that Naby Keïta would be an absolutely world-class addition to this Liverpool side.
Where do you think Naby Keïta would fit into Klopp’s starting XI if the Reds managed to sign him? Let me know in the comments section down below!
Stats as always, taken from the Squawka database.