Finally, Liverpool have been handed some positive injury news following the catastrophic loss of Virgil van Dijk after Naby Keita was pictured back in training on Monday afternoon.
The Guinean international missed Liverpool’s Merseyside derby clash with Everton after he tested positive for COVID-19 during the international break.
Keita, 25, has since recovered after receiving a negative COVID-19 test result and has been cleared to begin training and is available for selection, with Jurgen Klopp hopeful the No.8 can feature against Ajax tomorrow night.
Prior to the Everton setback, Keita had been named in Liverpool’s Premier League-starting XI on six consecutive occasions – his best run in the team since he joined the club in 2018.
One reason why Keita’s return to fitness is a timely boost is it comes just days before Liverpool kick-off their Champions League campaign in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
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The midfielder will be needed following the injury setbacks to Van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara. The latter was subject to a knee injury following a horror-tackle from Richarlison. Luckily for the Spaniard, the injury isn’t deemed to be too serious and Thiago could return sooner than rather than later.
However, Van Dijk’s potentially season-ending injury coupled with the fitness setback to that of Joel Matip, means that Fabinho will likely be forced to cover at centre back leaving two positions in the midfield from Saturday currently vacated.
Klopp should feel comfortable in putting his trust in Keita and selecting him as a starter in the Dutch capital.
Fans call for Keita to be brought in
In this abnormal season, I wonder if #lfc go into normal December rotation mode starting on Wednesday.
5 or 6 outfield changes every match.
I can see Tsimikas, Milner, Wijnaldum, Keita, Jota and Minamino all starting vs Ajax
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) October 19, 2020
Keita back for the Ajax game
Thiago not ruled out
— Gas….. (@GasLFC) October 19, 2020
Updated XI vs Ajax:
TAA – Fab – Gomez – Robbo
Keita – Hendo – Wij
Salah – Mané – Jota
— Martin (@LFCMartin_) October 19, 2020
Naby Keita has to step up now more than ever, he needs to be that goal scoring threat from midfield, with Firmino barely able to hit a barn door, we need goals from elsewhere and our beat chance is Naby. #LFC
— . 🇩🇰 (@Aszneee96) October 20, 2020
— Rahul Puri (@rahulpuri) October 20, 2020
Absolutely not haha.
Keita is perfect for klopp football. I'm not that worried
— Caleb Radford (@CalebRadfordLFC) October 19, 2020
People saying Gomez and Matip need to step up. Naby Keita now needs to step up big time and have the season of his life. He can help the defence massively from his ball retentions. Stop it at source. Season of his life pending….
— ThiagoElMago (@Thiago_el_mago) October 19, 2020
So where does he best fit?
This of course is Klopp’s biggest dilemma. The absence of Thiago and Fabinho add greater defensive responsibilities for Keita – something we know doesn’t bring out the player’s best qualities.
With Fabinho likely pulled into the defensive quartet, Keita will surely partner Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in the manager’s midfield trident against Ajax.
Keita represents Liverpool’s best-attacking source to link up with the club’s pedigreed front-three and will look to conjure up a similar performance to that he did against Arsenal last month.
As a unit, the midfield three were exemplary both on and off the ball, allaying any previous concerns that Liverpool would suffer without the presence of both Henderson and Thiago.
Keita – who cost the Reds £54 million [Guardian] persistently looked to break up counter attacks or set up the front three for a move forward. It was a complete performance from the former RB Leipzig talisman who is gradually becoming one of Liverpool’s most important players.
He took two shots of which none were on target, played one key pass, had a pass accuracy of 98% – higher than any other Liverpool player, took 56 touches, attempted one dribble, and put in two crosses according to WhoScored.
The dilemma for Keita and Klopp is that we haven’t seen performances like this enough over a sustained period. This is something that needs to change, especially in the absence of Van Dijk which pulls Fabinho out of his preferred position.
There are no easy decisions for Klopp from this point, but it feels like players such as Keita will need to add another 10 per cent to their overall game if Liverpool are to thrive in the absence of the club’s most transformative signing of the PL era.