It’s fair to say Naby Keïta’s Liverpool career thus far has been far from what many fans were expecting when Jürgen Klopp bought the Guinean from RasenBallsport Leipzig for £52million back in August 2017.
Hampered with minor injuries and niggles here and there throughout most of his Liverpool tenure, we still have yet to truly see what the 24-year-old is capable of when he’s at full pelt.
Keïta has shown glimpses of quality when he has been fit, but those moments have been too sparse to class him as a successful signing just yet for Jürgen’s men. His highlight reel so far consists of that sly turn against Crystal Palace facing Alisson’s net, the double nutmeg against Bournemouth, and a few notable goals here and there against Southampton and Porto.
Other than that the highly-rated midfielder has yet to truly string a promising run of form together since his arrival.
While the reasonable majority of supporters believe Keïta’s best is still to come, could you really blame those getting impatient with his lack of output after more than a year on Merseyside?
The Guinean has amassed injuries to several parts of his body – hamstring, thigh, back, and abductor complaints have seen him miss 20 competitive games for the Reds in total, with his last Premier League appearance coming against Huddersfield in a 5-0 victory which saw Keïta score in the opening seconds of the game.
Still struggling to get over the knock he picked up while off on international duty this past summer, most likely (am I being too kind?) due to extremely negligent management from now ex-Guinean manager Paul Put, matters were made worse he limped off the pitch clutching his hip in the build up to the UEFA Super Cup final.
The quality is undoubtedly there, but it seems his body still has yet to quite adapt to the physical nature that a Premier League footballer must posses. Even more difficult to acclimatise to is the additional physicality one must possess to feature in a Klopp-style midfield in one of the world’s best teams.
Reports that the midfielder bulked up over the summer had fans hoping Keïta would finally evolve into the midfielder we thought we had bought two years ago – fearless, tireless, and technical. Sadly, so far we have just not seen enough of that.
Let’s briefly look at the arc of Fabinho, who joined the Reds basically at the same time. For the first few months he did not feature much at all, and when he did the Brazilian looked a little shaky with his passing and overall movement.
A few more weeks passed and it clicked. We finally saw the former Monaco man show himself to be perhaps the best defensive midfielder in the world, heralded for his tactical awareness, pinpoint tackling and displaying an impressive passing range for a player in his mould.
Granted, Fabinho and Keïta are nothing alike when comparing the two’s progression since joining. The Brazilian’s physical attributes lend themselves to a quicker adjustment to the Premier League over Naby’s, but that’s not to say one cannot be a quality Premier League midfielder if you’re slight in stature. Just ask David Silva and N’golo Kanté, among others.
Naby’s glimpses of skill have whetted fans’ appetites – we simply need to see it more often. He will no doubt be given this season at the very minimum to make himself a regular on Klopp’s team sheet.
I genuinely believe he’s still destined for success in a Liverpool shirt, but we’ve seen injuries ruin careers before – that could be the nagging issue with Keïta and the only thing that might not see him earn another big contract with the Reds.
He’s seen the success our club has had first-hand. The Reds almost won the most tightly-contested Premier League race in history, won the European Cup and the Super Cup. He has seen the likes of Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk – among others – erupt into icon status.
Keïta has witnessed his teammates elevate to new heights, it’s now his turn to use his quality and take the next step to drive him forward. Naby has a place in this team, he just needs to be fit enough to grasp the opportunity and not look back – easier said than done.
It’s okay to be frustrated with him. It’s okay to demand more from the midfielder, but it’s too early to call him a flop. It has to be time for business once the Guinean returns from his latest injury layoff.
The most recent update we’ve received on Keïta’s fitness suggested Klopp is hoping to see the 24-year-old back in training this week. Let’s hope his latest Liverpool return sparks a new chapter in his Anfield career.
Although Keïta still has the vast majority of supporters backing him to turn good, the clock is certainly ticking now for him to justify his huge price tag and produce on the pitch on a consistent basis.