Since joining the club in 2018, it’s fair to say that Naby Keita’s time at Liverpool has been a mixed bag. Big things were expected from the Guinean international when he joined the club from RB Leipzig.
A big transfer fee and inheriting the number 8 shirt made so famous by Steven Gerrard heaped the pressure on him from the very start. And, more than two years later he hasn’t quite delivered.
But, with the 2020/21 season unlike anything we’ve ever seen before could now be the time for the real Naby Keita to shine? Injuries have robbed Keita from a consistent run in the team thus far but with Klopp keen to experiment with new formations, and a congested fixture schedule Keita could yet be a star in Liverpool’s midfield.
What does he offer?
Away from his fitness issues perhaps the biggest issue with Keita is no one really seems to know where his best position is. Is he an old-fashioned central midfielder who can make an impact in both boxes? Is he a number 10 who wants to contribute goals and assists? Or is he a creator that can produce a moment of magic to win a game.
The truth is probably somewhere in between all of these definitions. Over the course of his Liverpool career so far he’s certainly showed glimpses of brilliance. The problem is these glimpses are often interrupted with an injury.
It looked like he may finally get a consistent run in the team this season, starting the first four games. But after that humiliation at Villa Park, he succumbed to yet another injury leaving many fans pondering whether he will be this generation’s nearly man.
Where does Keita fit in?
When Keita does turn it on he can be a real asset. Think of the assist at home for Sadio Mane against Aston Villa last season or the goal away at Bournemouth.
His quality is undeniable when he can get on the pitch. He is also not afraid to get stuck into a tackle making him a handy option to have in a necessarily gritty midfield in the Premier League.
However, Liverpool now have an abundance of assets in midfield. Henderson, Wijnaldum, Thiago, Fabinho the list goes on.
And there is an argument to say he doesn’t get into the best three when everyone is fit. And with Liverpool deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation at times this season in order to fit Diogo Jota in alongside the regular front three, it may become even harder for him.
Now or never for Naby?
If Keita is unable to nail down a regular role for Liverpool this season you have to wonder if he ever will. With some areas of the fan base having already lost patience with the time he spends on the treatment table, it could force Klopp’s hand.
But you could also argue that Keita has an even bigger reason to get it right this year. With Liverpool suffering from a well-documented injury crisis, if Keita can remain fit then his importance for the team could become higher than ever before.
It would be a shame if Liverpool fans never see the best of Keita. As previously mentioned the glimpses he has shown have been exciting. And we know from his time in the Bundesliga just how good he can be.
But last season he managed less than 20 league matches which, for a team where consistency is so central to their style, is less than impressive.
With Liverpool needing players to step up as the injuries mount, and with the whispers of the Premier League returning to five substitutions not going away, Keita may yet grasp his opportunity.
If he doesn’t then Keita’s time in a Liverpool shirt may not last too much longer…