By James Crump – @TheJamesCrump
Today we take a relatively short jump back to August 29th, 2017, to the announcement of the deal to bring Naby Keita to Liverpool.
Signing the midfielder was a bit of a saga with both Liverpool and RB Leipzig unwilling to alter their stance on the transfer. The Bundesliga side were adamant that their prized asset wouldn’t be sold in the 2017 summer window, seemingly extending negotiations for another season.
With days to go in the window the deal looked dead but, out of nowhere, Liverpool announced that the Guinean had been signed a year in advance, with a premium being paid to secure his services. The final price was £52.7 million and he would become a Liverpool player on July 1st, 2018.
Like most Liverpool fans I had only ever seen Keita play in YouTube compilations. Signings are exciting, but for a lot of the rumoured players from abroad, the only way to get a grasp of their abilities is to watch these compilations. The problem is that they only show the good bits, which can skew their abilities.
In these clips he looked like the full package, with guile, tenacity and – most importantly – creativity. His final season at Leipzig didn’t go quite as well, with discipline a problem for the Guinean, but the feeling was that he had mentally checked out and was waiting for his switch to Merseyside.
When he finally made the move, the 24-year-old impressed in pre-season, but fans felt frustrated that Klopp wasn’t testing a Fabinho/Keita pivot like they’d hoped. The Guinean primarily played on the left of a midfield three – a tactical choice that stayed once the season started.
But then he got injured, lost his form when he returned and swiftly got injured again. This pattern continued for much of the season, causing frustration for fans who were not convinced the African midfielder was quite the player they were expecting.
There were glimpses of his best, most notably the away fixture at Burnley. Keita dominated the midfield, making decisive attacking runs and bullying the Clarets’ midfielders whenever Liverpool were out of possession.
Despite an upturn in form, starts were hard to come by and he struggled to impose himself on opposition midfields, often losing the midfield battle and looking lost.
Later in the season – after a spate of injuries in midfield – Keita finally got a run in the team again, this time taking full advantage. He was a vital cog in the second half of the season, scoring a couple of goals and showing a mix of attacking threat and defensive vitality.
The Naby Keita Liverpool fans wanted was finally shining through, but once again he picked up an injury and missed the last few weeks of the season. The player’s first campaign was frustrating in the end, but finally the fans got to see the player he could be.
He left this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations early through injury, but has come back to Liverpool with added muscle mass. Despite his frustrating first season, it looked like everything was in place for him to kick on this term.
He had an electric cameo in the Charity Shield, but once again found himself on the treatment table after a training session prior to the Super Cup against Chelsea. This injury is still keeping him sidelined, stunting his Liverpool career once more.
Almost two years on from the announcement of his signing, it’s hardly been a memorable time at Anfield for Keita. His injuries are a concern and his form has varied wildly, only rarely giving fans a look at his true talents.
However, his form at the end of the 2018/2019 season and a positive cameo in the Charity Shield show that his best is still to come. If he can stay injury free then this could be the year that Keita shows why fans got so excited about his signing.