Naby Keita ended the 2019/20 Premier League season as a key player in Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League-winning squad.
It certainly felt as if supporters were beginning to see the Guinean talisman at his best on a regular basis as his importance to the team finally came to the fore.
Such sustained brilliance saw Keita rewarded with a deserved start in Klopp’s midfield triumvirate against Leeds United on the opening day of the season.
What came next was a little surprising, as Keita struggled to assert his authority in the game and his failure to seize his opportunity at the weekend could cost him his place against Chelsea on Sunday.
He had positive moments, certainly. There were few dribbles here and there, as well as some nice counter-pressing from the attacking front.
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But in the end, he finished the game without a successful tackle, without any key passes, and without a significant impact according to WhoScored.
Keita was replaced by Fabinho on the hour mark, who upon his arrival looked much fresher and more assertive in midfield.
The Brazilian international won the crucial penalty which saw Salah grab a vital hat-trick to kick-start Liverpool’s title defence with a win.
Keita holds the key to disrupt Klopp’s trusted midfield three
After featuring in all nine of Liverpool’s final Premier League matches of the season after Project Restart, Keita finally was handed a platform to showcase his talents.
Having been previously riddled with injuries and numerous physical setbacks, Keita finally had a sustained period during lockdown to return to fitness and rediscover his form.
The results were breathtaking and performances such as Chelsea and Brighton demonstrated to Klopp that Keita was the player who could add something different to the manager’s tried-and-tested midfield.
Against Frank Lampard’s Blues at Anfield back in July, Keita was unplayable and was finally contributing from a statistical standpoint after scoring a piledriver into the top corner from outside the box.
It is performances such as this that Klopp will hope to see more of if Keita is to break into the manager’s first-choice midfield trident.
The former RB Leipzig star makes Liverpool more unpredictable in midfield and is much more effective from an attacking sense as Keita is able to retrieve possession and start attacks much higher up the pitch.
Ready to go
Klopp’s decision to give Keita the nod on the opening weekend suggests that the boss is prepared to hand the Liverpool No.8 a more sustained role in the team.
If Liverpool are going to be successful and retain their title then Keita will be key, especially in the matches where Klopp will look to rotate given the heavily congested fixture schedule this season.
Keita – who cost the club £52.75 million – has an opportunity that he cannot afford to pass up as before Project Restart, he was only able to start in just three PL matches during Liverpool’s procession to the title.
His ability to contribute more goals and assists from midfield must improve if Klopp is to sacrifice one of his favoured midfield generals in favour of Keita.
If Keita can kick on this season and deliver the talent we all know he possesses on a regular basis then there is every reason that he is capable of breaking into Liverpool’s midfield three for years to come.
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