Naby Keita may have a key role to play against Manchester United. The Liverpool midfielder could attack a potential weak link.
Liverpool travel to Old Trafford on Sunday for one of the biggest games of their season. Facing Manchester United is always a grand occasion but a result there would be a major statement in the title race.
Jurgen Klopp will want to work with any advantage he can find, then. The fixture list may already provide one and we think there’s another – with the right midfield.
Naby Keita could well be the secret to unlocking United.
Naby Keita vs United
Keita had a mixed game against Atletico Madrid in midweek. He scored a magnificent goal but the Spaniards got the better of him for both of their goals. Klopp took him off at half-time as he tried to tighten up.
But while that game maybe didn’t play to Keita’s strengths, Sunday’s really might. He could be the best player for Liverpool to attack a possible weak link.
United will almost certainly setup with two holding midfielders, one of which will likely be Fred. The Nemanja Matic/Paul Pogba duo was a disaster against Leicester City, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turning to Scott McTominay and Fred against Atalanta.
It wasn’t a perfect pairing but they did enough to win the game in midweek. He’ll surely want a similar defensive shield against Liverpool.
But Fred has a weakness. He’s very prone to being dribbled, having suffered 14 times in the equivalent of 5.6 matches, per FBref. That’s the most of anyone at United and twice as many as Fabinho, with a similar amount of minutes played.
Having someone go at Fred makes sense, then. We expect United to sit deep and try to frustrate Liverpool but that plan falls apart if you can get the better of a holding midfielder.
Keita is probably the best bet at doing just that. He’s the most consistent dribbler at Liverpool and by far the best in midfield – even if, for whatever reason, he hasn’t been doing it this season.
Keita has consistently boasted incredible success rates since arriving for £53m. He was successful with 63% of his dribbles in his first season, 76% in his second and 80% in his third.
These are all with plenty of attempts, too – Keita averages around three attempts per 90 minutes over his Liverpool career.
For comparison, Mohamed Salah’s success rate is 51% this season as one of the Premier League’s standout dribblers. Now, he tries it in tighter areas than Keita, of course, but it’s a demonstration of just how consistent the Guinean is.
We’re not sure why but Keita has only attempted two dribbles in the equivalent of three matches this season. It’s a shame, as this is an undoubted strength of his.
So we’d like to see it return against United. If Liverpool can get Keita running at Fred, he has the ability to cause serious problems.