Who will partner Naby Keita in Liverpool’s midfield next season?

Who will partner Naby Keita in Liverpool's midfield next season?

Michael Baddeley looks at Jurgen Klopp’s options in the transfer market as far midfield reinforcements are concerned.

This summer we will see the arrival of one of the most eagerly anticipated signings in Liverpool history. As a 22-year-old, I only really remember the high profile, exciting transfers such as Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez.

So really, I’ve never really had many transfers to get me excited from the moment we signed them. Obviously more recently there’s been Virgil Van Dijk, a player I was pining for us to sign in January of last season.

But other than those three, there’s not really been a signing where myself or even the whole fanbase has got really excited about.

But with Naby Keita, the excitement levels have been through the roof, not just for me but for all Liverpool fans around the world. It is quite possibly the most anticipated Premier League era transfer for the Reds. In fact, it’s a signing that had many people in the footballing world texting our gaffer to congratulate him on the capture. If that doesn’t speak levels then I don’t know what does!

But the issue we have is what system do we play and who do we have to partner the Guinean international in the midfield?

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If you know anything about the player then you’ll know that he isn’t a holding type player like Kante, despite the high number of fans saying so on social media, he really isn’t.

Naby is an explosive box-to-box midfielder. He has exceptional work-rate, strength in abundance, blistering pace and phenomenal dribbling skills. To put it simply he is a no. 8 who loves to bomb on and take players on and currently, we do not have any real defensive minded players in the midfield that will allow Keita to do that and be at his best.

This season, he has featured in a few formations at RB Leipzig. Usually, the German outfit go with a 4-2-2-2 but they occasionally use a 4-3-3. Both of the formations are very close to what we see Klopp use at Liverpool. The later of the two more so, but the 4-2-2-2 is very close to the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 we’ve have seen at Liverpool.

For me, a midfield partnership of Keita and Emre Can would have been dreamy. The German divides opinion amongst the fanbase. Personally, I think he’s exceptional and would make a brilliant partner for Keita. But as we know, it’s expected that the player will leave for Juventus on a free at the end of the season meaning we will need to buy a replacement.

We could just drop Keita in the current midfield and have him feature alongside two of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. But for me, that’s not good enough, it really wouldn’t work at all. Hendo has been average as the no. 6, but is nowhere near good enough to free up Keita and allow him to push on.

Now the issue is, do we carry on with the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 and have the dynamic midfielder in a double pivot with someone who will sit and allow to Keita bomb on and influence the game further up the field? Or, do we stay with that 4-3-3 and have a proper holding player alongside Keita and someone else who will again push on?

Personally, I’d go with the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 with a defensive minded midfielder sitting alongside him and a more attacking outlet just in front of him. Having such players around him will allow him to link the play between defence and attack, but also allow him to charge further up the field with the knowledge and confidence that he has someone behind covering him when he does choose to bomb on.

As I said before, none of the players we currently have possess the ability to sit behind him and cover his direct, forward runs. Henderson and Gini are the only two that could do it, but there’s not a chance that they’re good enough to do such a job that allows Keita such freedom.

So really, if you’re going off that basis, then we should really be buying someone to compliment Keita. Something both Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard and his ex-midfield partner Didi Hamann both agree with.

Who do we go for?

If you were going to go for a midfield three you’d have to look at buying someone else who can do the same job as Naby as well as a defensive minded player. Leon Goretzka would have been perfect for that but as he is now Munich-bound that is a no-go.

Lazio star-man Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, German youngster Kai Havertz and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure would all be perfect for that sort of role as they all love playing in the advanced roles of the midfield. PSG’s Adrien Rabiot would also be an unbelievable addition but a very unlikely one too.

In terms of more defensive options then I have to say options would be more limited. There really wouldn’t be many players that specialise in such a job that will be available.

There has been talk of Victor Wanyama in recent days, but I really couldn’t see that happening at all. Why would a rival sell such a player that would make us so much better?

A good option in terms of helping Keita settle down would be fellow compatriot Abadou Diawara from Napoli. We could also raid Napoli for Diawara’s teammate Jorginho, someone who Liverpool have apparently had on their radar for a number of years now. There have also been reports the experienced Arturo Vidal could be available.

For me, there is one player I want and wouldn’t cost that much at all and that is Leicester City man Wilfried Ndidi. The Nigerian is an industrious tackler and we have been missing that ever since Javier Mascherano left.

The 21-year-old could form a partnership with Keita that would have the energy and tenacity we’ve been missing since the days of Gerrard and Masch. Ndidi, like Keita, possesses fantastic energy and strength but is also an unbelievable tackler. If you watch him then he is very much like the man he replaced, Ngolo Kante, and that is the type of player Liverpool have been screaming out for for a number of years.

However, if last night’s report from Paul Joyce is to be believed, then Liverpool’s number one midfield target going into the summer will be Napoli’s Jorginho. Joyce also claims that we will look for a Coutinho replacement as well as a holding midfielder.

So maybe we might just see the Reds carry on with the 4-3-3, Jorginho sitting with Keita sitting just in behind a more attacking midfielder? Who knows, we will have to wait and see.

To be perfectly honest, Naby is that good that he doesn’t need other players to allow him to put in top performances. At the age of 22, he’s got that ability to make things happen and stand out regardless of the support around him, but imagine another top player or two that will compliment his style and allow him to express his ability even more?

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