Naby Keita's chance to stake his claim Opinion

Naby Keita's chance to stake his claim

Naby Keita's chance to stake his claim

Naby Keita logs on to Zoom for Liverpool's latest quarantine training session.

He is greeted by exclamations of "Naby lad!" from Virgil van Dijk and Gini Wijnaldum.

The players had gone weeks without seeing each other face-to-face, and the Zoom sessions were clearly a hit.

Luckily, the club has posted parts of these sessions on YouTube. This enables the fans to see the bonds between players and staff.

In previous videos, there was the expected banter from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as a demonstration of the bromance between Mo Salah and Dejan Lovren.

But this time, Keita seems to be in the thick of the action.

There is clear affection on display as he jokes around with the pair of Dutchmen.

Guinean Keita is clearly settled in at the club he joined in 2018.

Now, come June, the Zoom training sessions are done with.

The players are back out on the pitch, mingling in person at both Melwood and Anfield.

With the return for action against Everton scheduled for the June 20, it is full-steam ahead for The Reds.

Footage of an 11v11 game between the squad at Anfield was released, featuring clips of Keita tearing things up.

All rights reserved by the Liverpool Echo
All rights reserved by the Liverpool Echo

Liverpool then played a behind-closed-doors friendly against Blackburn Rovers, with Keita again finding the net in a 6-0 win.

By all accounts, he ran the show.

Finally, could Liverpool fans see the player that saw the club fork out £54m for?

Liverpool should have the league wrapped up within a few weeks. This will mean having to play a number of essentially meaningless games to see out the season.

This is the perfect opportunity for players to get out and show what they can do in a relatively pressure-free environment.

For Naby Keita, it couldn't have come at a better time.

A world-class midfielder?

25-year-old Keita has split opinion since signing from RB Leipzig.

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All rights reserved by HITC

His price tag, and the fact that he took Steven Gerrard's no.8 shirt, meant that he was under pressure straight away.

Of course, the fact that he was signed a year before he actually joined the club meant that fans were even more anxious to see him in a red shirt.

Since he has joined, Keita has quietly been very good.

In fact, if one takes a look at his numbers, he has been outstanding.

Using stats from Football Slices, it is clear to see that Keita is an elite all-round midfielder.

According to the website, Keita is in the 85th+ percentile for shot-creating actions, passes into the final third, progressive distance, pass completion, successful dribbles, successful pressures and tackles won.

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All rights reserved by

This means that he is better at these particular stats than 85% of central midfielders in Europe's top five leagues.

When adjusted to compare him to attacking midfielders and wingers, he is in the top 100th percentile for successful pressures and pass completion, meaning he is the best midfielder in Europe in these areas.

For those that are still lost, Keita is proving to be elite in every aspect of midfield play, including winning the ball back, creating chances, progressing the ball with both dribbles & passes and passing accurately.

For those who are not fond of stat-based judgement, all they would have to do is watch him. There is no doubting that Keita is incredibly easy on the eye, as well as effective.

The fact that he is so good at both defensive and attacking actions makes him the ideal midfielder for Jurgen Klopp.

So, Naby Keita truly is an elite midfielder, in terms of ability.

See out the season

The problem is, injuries mean that he hasn't had the chance to demonstrate this ability often enough.

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All rights reserved by the Evening Standard

He has seen only 620 minutes of action in the league and Champions League this season.

This is similar to his first campaign at Anfield, when injuries limited him to just 33 appearances in all competitions.

Both seasons have featured numerous knocks, rather than long-term injuries.

This means inconsistent playtime, as opposed to a decent spell in the team before a long stretch out of the team.

Hopefully, this period of no football has helped him regain fitness to levels not seen before.

If he can even get through the remaining league games injury-free, it would be a massive positive for his Reds career.

All rights reserved by the Liverpool Echo
All rights reserved by the Liverpool Echo

Another positive for Keita is that he seems much more integrated into the squad now, as proven by the affectionate remarks from van Dijk and Wijnaldum.

This is combined with the fact that he is finally starting to seem comfortable with his English, as reported by Talksport.

Yes, injuries are his main problem, but this is also a major plus-point.

If Keita is comfortable around his teammates, and able to understand instructions better, it can only benefit him going forward.

Hopefully, now that five substitutions are allowed per-game, Keita will get the chance to start games and be taken off when he tires out. The lack of stakes will also enable this.

It should prevent him from picking up muscle injuries due to being overplayed.

In short, the stars are beginning to align for Naby Keita and his Liverpool career.

Keita: The future of Liverpool's midfield

If the rest of the current season goes well, it could see Naby Keita cement his place in the starting line-up for the big games from next season onwards.

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All rights reserved by GettyImages

Of the current favoured midfield three, only Fabinho is yet to reach his expected peak, at 26. Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are both 29 and coming to the end of their peaks.

Keita is not 26 until February 2021. This means he should have at least five more years at the top of his game.

It may come as a surprise to some, but when fully fit, Naby Keita is first-choice.

One only needs to look at the fact that he started the first game of his first season. He was not afforded the settling-in period that the likes of Fabinho were.

He also started against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League semi-final. This was the ultimate show of faith by Jurgen Klopp.

Keeping with the theme of his time in Merseyside so far, he went off injured after 24 minutes.

It seems clear that the plan for the first-choice midfield three in 2-3 years time is Fabinho, Keita plus one more.

All rights reserved by the Evening Standard
All rights reserved by the Evening Standard

For this plan to work out as hoped, Keita will need to put his injury struggles behind him.

Hopefully, his body has now adapted to Jurgen Klopp's training methods.

Better management when on international duty with Guinea will also help keep him fit.

All-in-all, Naby Lad's Liverpool career seems to have been kick-started.

The next month will tell us whether "Naby Lad" can maintain this momentum, or if Liverpool would be better off putting him in the scrapyard.

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