By Hani Na’eem – @hani_eem
Very few players have had the kind of hype and expectation surrounding their transfer that Naby Keita has had at Liverpool.
The year-long wait may have played a part in the feeling of anticipation, but the prospect of the Guinean playing for Liverpool has always been charged with excitement. The mercurial midfielder produced impressive displays at RB Leipzig and seemed to perfectly fit Liverpool’s playstyle of energetic pressing and quick counter-attack transition.
Fast forward to February 2019 and after a slow start, Liverpool have finally started to see glimpses of Keita’s special ability. Liverpool’s number eight showed excellent dribbling and passing ability in the win against Bournemouth.
Keita’s displays against Bournemouth followed an exciting performance at West Ham, and they have come at just the right time with important fixtures ahead for Klopp’s team. With that being said, Klopp will surely be waiting for the chance to include captain Jordan Henderson in the starting lineup again. The England international was last involved in the draw against Leicester before a spell on the sidelines.
Despite all the excitement Keita brings to Liverpool’s midfield, Henderson’s experience and physical edge will probably mean he gets his starting place immediately when he’s back. The absence of the Liverpool captain was most keenly felt during the draw at the London Stadium, where Liverpool produced a dire performance and were dispossessed quite often in midfield – Keita himself was a culprit on more than a couple of occasions.
Criticism for the Liverpool captain seems to be standard among football fans, but his work at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield shouldn’t go unnoticed because of the lack of flashy statistics to his name. Henderson’s statistics in the Premier League this season read like this: 21 appearances, zero goals scored, zero assists, and one red card. Not impressive, I know.
However, our captain’s offerings in midfield go beyond these statistics. Henderson’s ability to dictate the tempo of matches is perhaps his strongest weapon for this Liverpool team. Liverpool’s new-found pragmatism is only possible because of their captain’s ability to drop deep and help the defence while also being capable of producing attacking threat due to his excellent range of passing.
With Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho proving vital for the team with each outing, the last midfield spot seems like a toss up between Henderson and Keita, with the latter growing into the player we hoped he would be. Our captain, however, will certainly have reason to believe he would walk right back into the manager’s starting XI.