Jurgen Klopp opted not to start Naby Keita in the Community Shield defeat to Arsenal on Saturday. Does that suggest he still doesn’t trust the player?
Jurgen Klopp omitting Naby Keita from his starting lineup against Arsenal was arguably the most notable thing about it. Jordan Henderson was missing, after all, as was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There was a free space and Keita looked primed for it.
Keita enjoyed a fine end to the previous campaign, enough so that there’s reason to be excited about him this year. As a result, we named him in our predicted lineup for the game and felt confident about it.
But instead, Klopp went with James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum either side of Fabinho. The question, then, is why.
Klopp doesn’t have Keita down as one of his go-to’s. That’s for sure. The Guinean has only started 25 Premier League games in the two years since joining for £53m – not the numbers of a reliable first-teamer.
And so it’s entirely possible that Klopp just doesn’t trust the player outright. This was Liverpool’s opener, the first game of their attempt to win silverware for a third consecutive season.
But Klopp didn’t put him in from the start. So maybe Keita still has a ways to go before Klopp has him as a must-use. And that’s actually quite reasonable.
As we say, Keita played well after the restart, scoring once and assisting twice in four starts. But those were his first goals or assists since December – in fact, all of his goals and assists came in December prior to the restart.
So while he finished the season well, he may have more to do. But there may be another simple reason for his omission.
Neco Williams started at right-back against Arsenal. It was a tough assignment, too, as it meant a game up against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Without Henderson, it’s entirely possible that Klopp wanted a disciplined, hard-working midfielder to help out on the right. It would certainly explain why Wijnaldum played on that side, rather than his preferred left – even if it didn’t quite work out.
Keita isn’t the right type of player for a job like that. He’s a little easy to throw off his game but above all, he’s forward-thinking rather than someone who helps out their full-back.
So while this may be an example of Klopp not ‘trusting’ Keita, it’s an understandable one. Milner and Wijnaldum were both there to bolster the midfield, rather than influence things going forward.
Whatever Klopp’s reasoning, his choice actually worked in Keita’s favour. The functional midfield struggled badly in the first half as Liverpool couldn’t get anything going through it. Everything went long – Arsenal played directly and the Reds followed suit on the counter.
The team needed someone to play through and it’s telling that Klopp turned to Keita on 53 minutes. Liverpool changed formation, with the Guinean was the ‘playmaker’ in midfield.
We’ll have to wait and see how things develop, of course. But while Klopp may not trust Keita entirely, Saturday showed that he may have to learn to this season.