Naby Keita might have been Liverpool’s Man of the Match if Luis Diaz had not been absolutely outstanding for the Reds on Tuesday evening but it’s a sign of the Reds’ season that they have so many strong performers.
Diaz was on the bench against Watford when Liverpool won 2-0 in the Premier League on Saturday and Diogo Jota, his replacement, netted a fantastic header and drove the side forward at times with his pace and energy.
Fast forward a few days and Diaz found himself back in Portugal, playing his best game in a Liverpool shirt so far.
And yet, Keita was quietly pulling the strings for Liverpool, hoovering up the ball whenever it broke after a counter-press, snapping into tackles (5 in total) and winning 10 duels.
He had 106 touches, 92% pass accuracy and got an assist. Key.
His ability to win the ball back alongside an already aggressive duo in Thiago and Fabinho was fantastic to watch. Benfica were regularly suffocated in the middle of the park which is why it’s no surprise their goal came after the ball broke on the flank.
Naby Keïta's game by numbers vs. Benfica:
92% pass accuracy
10 duels won
8 ball recoveries
7 touches in opp. box
5 tackles made
3 take-ons completed
2 chances created
2 Big Chances created
2 through balls
Christmas came early. 😉 pic.twitter.com/Nfvsyeu9Ol
— Squawka (@Squawka) April 5, 2022
Naby Keita is a wonderfully talented player. Anybody who suggests otherwise isn’t actually watching the game without bias.
Interview reveals Keita’s injury concerns but underlines renewed confidence
But there is no escaping his injury woes and how they have hampered him. The player even admitted to the Liverpool Echo as though he feels fans haven’t seen the “real Naby Keita just yet.”
He goes on, underling his anxiety surrounding injuries, adding: “It’s great to know when you’re playing to not have the worry of getting injured.”
This season, the Guinean has been fit more often than in previous seasons and has been able to make an impressive contribution but has still been sidelined for a total of 48 days.
I found his next comment the most significant after reading about how he worries about if an injury is around the next corner.
Keita more assuredly continued: “But now as I start to grow in confidence a lot more, I will be the kind of player who helps his team a lot.”
This confidence was on show against Benfica as he shone alongside Luis Diaz. His dynamism and athleticism were vital.
More so was his ability to win the ball and use it efficiently and quickly.
Hopefully, he is rewarded with a start against Manchester City but Jordan Henderson will likely be restored to the starting XI. The captain did a good job of settling the side when he was introduced against his Portuguese opponents.
However, the task at hand on Sunday is entirely different and it’s one that Keita, who reportedly earns £130,000/week, is objectively better suited to due to his technical quality and ball-recovery expertise.
There are a few major decisions that Klopp has to make before Liverpool are expected at the Etihad and landing on the right midfield trio is one of them.