Opinion: Naby Keita must start vs. Norwich

After struggling to make an impact at Liverpool despite massive expectations, Naby Keita could be set for a watershed season at Anfield.

RB Leipzig supporters and Liverpool fans are the only people that realise just how good the 26-year-old really is.

He combines tenacious tackling with mazy dribbling and tight control and by now, he should be considered one of the best players in the world.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 15: Naby Keita of Liverpool celebrates the only goal of the match with goalscorer Sadio Mane during the Premier League match between Norwich City and Liverpool FC at Carrow Road on February 15, 2020 in Norwich, United Kingdom.
NORWICH, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 15: Naby Keita of Liverpool celebrates the only goal of the match with goalscorer Sadio Mane during the Premier League match between Norwich City and Liverpool FC at Carrow Road on February 15, 2020 in Norwich, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Yet, he has been unable to do so as his much-publicised injury record has left him with few opportunities but I think the 2020/21 season could finally see him overcome his injury hassles.

Analysing Keita and his injury record

Liverpool signed Keita from RB Leipzig in 2018 for £48m and he was one of the most exciting players that the Reds had signed in recent years.

He had everything: Long-range screamers, solo goals, silly numbers for interceptions and tackles and a second-nature for triggering a high-press.

His understanding of the game is fantastic which allows him to intercept passes that other players wouldn’t have predicted and once on the ball, he is so difficult to tackle because of his low centre of gravity.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Naby Keita of Liverpool celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-0 during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Huddersfield Town at Anfield on April 26, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – APRIL 26: Naby Keita of Liverpool celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-0 during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Huddersfield Town at Anfield on April 26, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Injury after injury, however, has robbed him of both opportunities to string a series of games together to build up a head of steam and Jurgen Klopp’s trust.

Now, even when Keita is fit, the German can’t put him straight into the side because there’s no telling if his body will let him down.

Before he moved to Anfield, he missed just four games of football with RB Leipzig and has since missed a total of 53 games for Liverpool, robbing him of an entire season’s worth of football.

What does the future hold for him at Liverpool?

Anfield Central reported exclusively in January that Liverpool had assigned the midfielder his very own private physio that would stay with him at his home and work on ensuring that any time he felt discomfort, they could stretch the muscle out, ice a sore joint or even tell the coaching staff that he needed to limit his workload.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Naby Keita of Liverpool during a training session at Melwood Training Ground on September 29, 2020 in Liverpool, England.
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 29: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Naby Keita of Liverpool during a training session at Melwood Training Ground on September 29, 2020 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Additionally, with his live-in chef already cooking for him, Liverpool told him to cut back on the amount of red meat he was eating to limit inflammation and aid recovery.

Since these measures were implemented, Keita hasn’t suffered a single injury and has been in the best physical condition of his Liverpool career.

Fitness is only part of his recent battles and now, with pre-season set to begin on the 12th of July, Keita will need to work hard to prove to Klopp that he should be in contention to start the first Premier League game of the season.

Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago are all taking part in international tournaments this summer and so will return to pre-season later than Keita.

UNSPECIFIED, AUSTRIA - JULY 12: Naby Keita of Liverpool during a training session on July 12, 2021 in UNSPECIFIED, Austria.
UNSPECIFIED, AUSTRIA – JULY 12: Naby Keita of Liverpool during a training session on July 12, 2021 in UNSPECIFIED, Austria. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

This doesn’t guarantee that he will be in the starting XI when the new season starts but it means that if he can showcase continued fitness and rediscover the same sharpness that he did when he joined the club, Keita could be “like a new signing” as Jurgen Klopp would say.

Keita playing 40+ games a season combined with Konate’s arrival and injury returns from Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Henderson will have Liverpool’s squad feeling refreshed and that’s even before any other new signings are confirmed.

Michael Mongie
Football Central Media Group founder, owner and editor.

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