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.
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.
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.