Scott Groom explains why Naby Keita’s Man of the Match display away to Burnley is proof of why he has to start in midfield for Liverpool moving forward.
In the first half, he was Liverpool’s only player providing any spark and in the second, he continued to provide incisive runs, was the driving force of the midfield and really should’ve been rewarded with a goal if it weren’t for Joe Hart’s fingertips. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Naby Keita.
Many Liverpool fans have been left a little dissatisfied with the lack of football they’ve seen afforded to the man that has taken on the massive mantle of Steven Gerrard’s number eight jersey, which has mainly been as of the result of an injury the Guinean picked up a number of weeks ago.
However, Keita provided a timely reminder against Sean Dyche’s side of the player that Klopp was prepared to wait all of this time for, as he turned out a man-of-the-match performance to inspire Liverpool to victory.
Keita produced an all-round dazzling display at Turf Moor, putting in a real shift both in an attacking and defensive sense. He provided real energy and zip to the midfield and was a thorn in Burnley’s side all game.
Keita successfully recovered possession 10 times during the 90 minutes; more than both Milner and Henderson managed and notched up an impressive 93% passing accuracy.
And it wasn’t just the work in recovering the ball that caught the eye, it was what he did with the ball once it was at his feet that had Liverpool fans and manager Jürgen Klopp singing his praises.
Keita was direct and constantly looked to drive forward, causing Burnley to back off, or pulling players out of position to track his runs, thus creating space for his teammates to exploit ahead of him.
It was a really welcome sight, as there has been a large degree of criticism of late as to the lack of spark and creativity in the middle of the park for Liverpool, so this alone makes Keita a hard man to drop from the starting XI for any of the upcoming fixtures.
Keita’s work off the ball was also incredibly impressive, and his energy and tenacity outshone both that of his midfield counterparts Henderson and Milner.
The map below, provided by twelve.football, shows that Keita was a menace when Burnley players were on the ball, constantly applying pressure in the middle of the pitch and a little further forward, perfectly auctioning Klopp’s trademark ‘gegenpressing’ style of play.
He was also useful on the ball, rarely conceding possession and providing two key attacking passes, only being beaten on this front by Milner if we’re comparing match actions of the midfield three.
And let’s not forget, he was desperately unlucky not to have notched his first Liverpool goal as he had two shots blocked from almost on the line within the space of about a minute, as well as forcing a fine, fingertip save from Joe Hart in the second half.
Taking all of this into account, the visibly pleasing aspects and the nitty-gritty work off the ball carried out by Keita, it was a very pleasing performance from the number eight, and one worthy of inheriting Gerrard’s legendary shirt.
It provided a bit of a breath of fresh air to what felt like it was becoming a bit of a stagnant midfield, but with Keita involved, there was a vibrancy and enthusiasm that appears to have been missing in recent times.
It begs the question as to when Klopp will be bold and pair him with fellow summer signing Fabinho, who has also impressed in his limited displays since his switch from Monaco.
This partnership of youthful energy and doggedness in the middle could really prove useful for the Reds, especially when it comes to playing sides like Burnley who will set out to frustrate Liverpool and be very resolute.
Keita gave a very good example as to why Liverpool splashed the cash on him and then were prepared to wait for his services at length. More of the same, and Liverpool fans will think they’ve snapped up another bargain, despite his hefty price tag.