Despite the injury troubles that Liverpool have faced this season, Naby Keita has struggled to cement his name on the teamsheet.
The Guinean international joined Liverpool from RB Leipzig in 2018 for an eye-opening ₤52.75 million fee. As an emerging, energetic 23-year-old midfielder, expectations were extremely high for Keita.
However, the adjustment to new surroundings and nagging injury problems have prevented Keita from gaining momentum in a Reds kit. Now halfway through his third season in England, what does Keita’s future at Liverpool hold?
Despite the constant injury interruptions, Keita has enjoyed some real bright moments in a Liverpool shirt.
Few midfielders at Liverpool this century have provided the dynamism and spark to the Liverpool attack that Kieta provides. The driving runs and unexpected gaps and passes that he finds often prove the key to unlock the opposition defence.
More of a defensive asset in Germany, Jurgen Klopp has given Keita license to contribute more to the attack. Although it hasn’t allowed Keita to engage in defensive battles a la N’Golo Kante the way he did in Germany, it has definitely unlocked a new element to his game.
At the tail end of last season, Keita showcased the full array of assets you could ask for in a midfielder. The lockdown gave him time to get healthy and he finally gained the momentum needed to demonstrate his ability. His worldie against Chelsea served as the icing on the cake, putting the rest of the league on notice.
Keita plays with a confidence so rarely found in box-to-box midfielders. He provides dribbling ability, link-up play, and overall mercuriality that no other Liverpool midfielder offers. Even on his bad days, Keita’s playing style ensures that he makes an impact in some capacity.
Furthermore, Klopp definitely rates the Guinean highly. He has repeatedly asked for patience from the media and previously referred to him as “the best player in the Bundesliga“ at RB Leipzig.
Finally, he has seemingly grown more comfortable in his surroundings. A fan favourite, teammates consistently praise the ability and character of “Naby Lad”.
The negatives again stem from the 25-year-old’s inability to stay healthy. Despite never suffering any long-term injuries, Keita frequently suffers from minor ailments such as knocks and strains that keep him on the sidelines for weeks.
According to Transfermarkt, Keita has never missed more than 7 games due to an injury at Liverpool. However, he has amassed 8 different injuries that have kept him out for 3 or more games.
Paul Pogba has followed a similar fate to Keita: brilliant in patches, but never for an extended period of time. In theory, the two could be the two most talented midfielders in England had things gone their way.
One of Keita’s positive traits that have potentially hindered his progress at Liverpool is his versatility. His ability to occupy many different roles has made it hard for him to find his place in the midfield.
While Fabinho has cemented his role as the midfield anchor and Jordan Henderson as the all-around action midfielder, Keita is lost somewhere in the middle.
The signing of Thiago, the emergence of Curtis Jones, and the persistence of James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum hasn’t helped the cause.
The bevy of options in the midfield offers a legitimate threat to Keita’s long-term viability in the side. He needs to remind Liverpool fans of his talent sooner rather than later to make sure he doesn’t fall too far down in the pecking order.
Keita faces a true crossroads. He is past the point where we can grant him the excuse of being new to Liverpool and must start performing consistently.
The battle for spots in the Liverpool midfield won’t get any easier, but the crowded fixture schedule should provide opportunities. Starting on Sunday, Liverpool play 10 games in the next 34 days. They play each of the current top six in the Premier League in that time span.
Furthermore, the utilization of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in defence should free up some of the competition. However, Keita himself is yet to recover from a muscular issue and is doubtful to feature on Sunday against Manchester United.
Even if Keita fails to impress the rest of the season, I doubt Liverpool would sell him. Liverpool seem likely to add, rather than subtract, from their midfield ranks this summer with Wijnaldum set to leave.
However, the 25-year-old Keita could garner an attractive fee from suitors given his age. Nonetheless, it’s more likely that Klopp gives Keita at least one more season to prove his worth to the side before cashing in.