Since arriving on Merseyside, Naby Keita has endured a mixed start to life at Liverpool. Despite being part of the squad that won the 2018-19 Champions League, the Guinean has yet to win over the Anfield faithful. So, with that in mind, let’s consider whether he should be awarded more time to prove himself.
Arriving with High Expectations
In August 2017, Liverpool Football Club agreed an at-the-time club-record deal with RasenBallsport Leipzig for the signing of the Guinean international. The six-time champions of Europe activated the midfielder’s £48 million release clause and opted to pay a further premium on top of that to ensure that secured the now 25-year-old’s signature. At the time, it appeared a sensible decision from the Reds, with Barcelona seemingly interested in making a late move for the former Austrian Bundesliga Player of the Year.
During Keita’s second-to-last season in the Bundesliga, which acted as the catalyst for Liverpool moving to complete a transfer at the end of the 2016-17 campaign, the Guinean scored eight goals and assisted a further eight for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Leipzig. Since Fenway Sports Group purchased Merseyside club back in 2010, the Reds have long used a Moneyball system for targeting players. Crucially, from an analytical perspective, Keita’s penultimate season showed that he was among the elite of European midfielders.
Interestingly, Ian Graham, who also recommended the signings of Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho, found in his analysis that, although Keita had a lower pass completion rate than other elite midfielders, his successful passes resulted in a higher average chance of scoring, making him someone capable of breaking down the most resolute defences. Moreover, the now 25-year-old also seemed like a natural choice from a tactical standpoint, with Hasenhuttl, like Klopp, favouring a high-pressing style of football.
Undeniable Talent, but Dependable Fitness?
Few can argue against the immense talent that Keita so obviously possesses, yet his abilities, for one reason or another, have yet to transition from the Bundesliga to the world-famous Anfield turf. In 51 appearances in all competitions for the Reds, the Guinean has thus far failed to replicate his best Leipzig form, scoring just six goals and setting up two more.
Fundamentally, it wouldn’t be an unfair assessment to state that, while Keita has shown glimpses of his world-class talents, his inconsistencies can be attributed to injury struggles. The former Salzburg man missed only four matches during his stint in Germany, which is noticeably different when compared to his time in the Premier League. While on Merseyside, Keita has missed a total of 27 games, mostly as a result of muscles injuries.
Unfortunately for the Guinean, this has resulted in his Liverpool career thus far failing to hit the heights. Furthermore, Jurgen Klopp is also blessed with a wide array of different options in the centre of the park, each of which have already proven their reliability. The return from injury of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, has hindered Keita’s starting opportunities in numerous matches, even during the stages where he has been fit to play.
Prior to the delay of completion of the season, Liverpool were the favourites among many of the best bookmakers in the UK at SBO.net to win the Premier League with Klopp’s side only needing two more wins to clinch the title. Moreover, the closing stages of the season also felt pivotal for Keita’s future on Merseyside. While reports suggest that the Reds’ German manager still has total faith in the Guinean, Liverpool need his talents to come to the forefront sooner rather than later, especially if they are to once again challenge on all fronts next season.
A Little More Patience Wouldn’t Go Amiss
While there will be a handful of Liverpool supporters suggesting that the Reds should sell Keita, the prospect of awarding him more time should be embraced. Crucially, in brief glimpses, there have been signs that the 25-year-old has started to adapt. Because of that, the Reds should stick with him as his talent isn’t in question.