Naby Keita was one of Jurgen Klopp’s shining lights during the Liverpool’s end to the season post Project Restart.
The former RB Leipzig talisman featured in all of Liverpool’s final nine matches of the season post lockdown which was his longest consecutive run in the team since his Anfield arrival in 2018.
Keita, 25, is currently one of the only big-money signings of the Klopp tenure who is still yet to vindicate himself as a proven performer over a sustained period for the Premier League champions.
Admittedly, injuries have played a key role in Keita unable to maintain the momentum that he was able to build on the occasions he has starred in Klopp’s team.
He was limited to just nine starts during Liverpool’s procession to the title last season although if he is to avoid injury and maintain the same reign of form he showcased during the closing stages of the 2019/2o campaign then that number is likely to drastically increase.
The final piece of the puzzle
Keita was initially brought in to give Liverpool’s midfield an edge on the front foot as the Guinean international thrives higher up the pitch breaking up play and linking up in attack once immediately after possession is retrieved.
What has let Keita down during his first two years at the club has been his statistical output in front of goal. Last season, he was able to score on just two occasions in the PL and given his £52.75m price-tag [Independent] there is a case from supporters to feel he should be doing better.
After all, Keita proved during his time with Leipzig that he can offer an edge in attack once momentum is on his side.
During the 2016/17 campaign, Keita scored eight goals and registered the same number assists during 31 appearances for Leipzig helping the German outfit secure a club-record second-place finish in the Bundesliga.
It was this particular run of form that prompted Liverpool to activate his £48m release clause that same summer and wait a year to get their man as Klopp wanted a midfielder who made them more unpredictable from the bog-standard relentless work-rate that the likes of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner offered the team.
Can he kick on?
This is exactly what we saw during the closing stages of last season where Keita was absolutely outstanding and arguably Liverpool’s most impressive performer after the restart.
He finally began to take the game to opponents and became more clinical in the final third. Keita’s thunderbolt against Chelsea typified what he can do with a sustained run in the team as the former Salzburg prospect clearly thrives when confidence is high.
Rotation will be required next season and while Klopp’s preferred midfield trident over the past couple of seasons hasn’t included the Liverpool No.8, we are still expecting Keita to play a more prominent role this season.
Also, given the recent injury setback for club-captain Henderson, we could see Keita feature frequently in the first-half of the season alongside Fabinho and Wijnaldum to aid Klopp in his quest to as he put it ‘attack the title’ rather than defend it.
With momentum on his side, Keita could feel like a new signing for Liverpool as we are yet to see what he is trully capable of when entrusted to deliver the goods on a weekly basis.
Considering Liverpool’s restrictions on signings amid the finincial uncertainty from the pandemic, it is paramount that players such as Keita step-up again next season as Klopp has had rely on internal value within the squad to come to the fore to ensure that squad depth is sufficient enough to go the distance in the league once again.
Keita’s run in the team post lockdown was nothing shy of scinitilating and if Liverpool are to add another edge to their game again next season it could be the player initially deemed as Steven Gerrard’s successor who is called upon to make the difference.
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