Premier League

With Fabinho gone, Naby Keita has already proven he is two players in one

The next superstar has been forgotten amidst Liverpool's achievements but he remains a brilliant option

11:00am on Friday 20th December 2019
By
Mizgan Masani

Naby Keita is, finally, here.

When he arrived at Liverpool back in the summer of 2018, the excitement was palpable, and rightly so.

The Guinea international made such a name for himself in the Bundesliga that the Reds had to fend off opposition from the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona to secure his signature.

It hasn’t worked out...so far. He has made 38 appearances in league and Europe since the start of 2018-19, only 24 of them starts and for such a high-profile, high-expectation arrival, he was largely forgotten during a record league points haul and Champions League victory.

Though injuries have played a significant role in his status as a Liverpool player, the settling-in phase has taken more time than usual. Of the 36 league and Champions League games Keita has missed, only 18 of them have been due to injuries - the rest have been due to being delayed in his comeback due to fitness, or for technical reasons.

But when he has been on the pitch, his performances appear better than the skeptical Liverpool fans might believe.

24 yrs - M, AM (C) - Liverpool
83
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
104
Played matches
3
1
1
Touches P90
128.94
Passes completed P90
102.12
AVG Rating
9.9
Tackles P90
2.60

With him on the pitch Liverpool have conceded an xG of 0.64 per game (with 0.44 actual goals conceded in that time). Without him, the team has conceded an xG of 1.15 per game (1.12 actual goals conceded). That is a significant difference.

If we concentrate on the things he has improved this season compared to last, it is logical to say that Jurgen Klopp wants the midfielder to be involved between the lines and be the second line of press behind the front three. It's already obvious from his inclusion since Fabinho's injury; Keita has three goals and an assist in his three appearances in the team. He is constantly infiltrating opposition territory, and for that reasons his ball recoveries and possession won in the final third have clearly increased.

He is playing as a pseudo-No. 10 with more freedom to express himself on the ball. His two appearances prior to the Club World Cup display versus Monterrey, at Bournemouth and RB Salzburg, were by far his best at Liverpool.

His heat-map against Bournemouth showed that while Klopp started him on the right-hand side of midfield, the Guinean was free to roam around and perform as an additional attacker. Keita scored, assisted, made three tackles, provided three key balls, and completed 94 passes in total. FC gave him a 9.9 for his performance.

24 yrs - M, AM (C) - Liverpool
83
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
90
Played matches
1
1
0
Touches P90
61.00
Passes completed P90
39.00
AVG Rating
8.1
Tackles P90
1.00

Against RB Salzburg away from home, Klopp was brave to keep Keita in the team despite knowing that Liverpool may need more protection against an attacking Austrian side. But the 24-year-old’s performance back at his former club was fantastic; compared to Bournemouth, Keita had significantly less touches, but his impact on the game was equally key.

In possession, he was again a No. 10, linking play between the lines, while dropping deeper to assist in defensive transition. His passing was significantly down (33 completed passes), but scored again, supplied two key balls and made three successful tackles. He also had four completed dribbles.

It's clear that Keita’s best position is centrally with a freedom to roam in between the lines and create havoc. His future likely lies as a midfielder that breaks forwards and supports the front three, who have shouldered the majority of the goalscoring responsibility.

We can say that Keita is just a very good football player, who has been unlucky so far. If he achieves some sort of consistency, then the Reds have the player they thought they had signed, making one of the best teams in Europe even stronger.

Latest news

Book Extract

How Jurgen Klopp made Trent Alexander-Arnold a playmaking full-back

In an extract from Lee Scott's book on Jurgen Klopp, we look at how the German evolved TAA's role into something special

  • 1 hour
Premier League

Ancelotti and James helping to dispel the 'intense' Premier League myth

The Italian took umbrage to the suggestion that his playmaker would not be able to adapt to England - and he's dead right

  • 2 hours
Lionel Messi

Luis Suarez is still a top forward - just not for Barcelona

The Catalan giants can't carry so many older players but the Uruguayan is still a superb finisher and has time to go yet

  • 4 hours
Transfers

Official: Atletico Madrid sign Luis Suarez from Barcelona

The Uruguayan had been rumoured to move to Juventus but when that move broke down, the capital club swooped for the forward

  • 9 hours
Discipline

Di Maria given four-match ban for spitting, Neymar racism decision delayed

The Argentine has been given a somewhat lenient suspension for the incident in the infamous PSG v Marseille clash earlier this month

  • 12 hours
Champions League

Lewandowski and De Bruyne lead UEFA award nominations...but no Messi or Ronaldo

For the first time in a decade, neither Cristiano nor Lionel Messi is nominated for the UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award

  • 15 hours

Most read

Other interesting players

  1. image description Rafinha M, AM (C)
    Barcelona 84
  2. image description Erick Pulgar M, DM (C)
    Fiorentina 84
  3. image description Jonas Hofmann M, DM (C)
    M'gladbach 83
  4. image description Teye Partey M, DM (C)
    Atletico Madrid 83
  5. Liverpool 83
  6. image description Casemiro M, DM (C)
    Real Madrid 83
  7. image description Julian Brandt M, AM (C)
    Dortmund 83
  8. image description Pizzi M, AM (R)
    SL Benfica 83
  9. image description Dani Ceballos M, AM (C)
    Arsenal 82