Next season will be a crucial year for Liverpool’s Naby Keïta. Now a Champions League and Premier League winning midfielder the pressure will be on the Reds’ £52million man to up his game to a level that warrants those accolades.
The Guinean has become a victim of the hype and expectations associated with his much-anticipated transfer and arrival. Though not at fault for the circumstances surrounding his transfer in 2018, his time in a Liverpool shirt can only fairly be described as mediocre, sprinkled with moments of magic.
There’s no doubting that Keïta is an excellent footballer. Teammates are often the best judge of talent; Virgil van Dijk labelled the midfielder “world-class”, while ex-Red Graeme Souness said the No.8 “has everything”.
Last season I wrote a piece reviewing his first year at Anfield where I criticised his performances and looked at some possible areas of improvement. Let’s take a look at the Guinean’s 2019/20 numbers.
The main worry noted about the player’s maiden campaign in England was his lack of availability. Both his first and second seasons have been disrupted by a series of niggling injuries which compromised any hope of building momentum. In 2018/19 Keïta featured for only 1407 minutes, while his playing time the following season was just over half of that (812 minutes).
With that said, Project Restart has given the former RB Leipzig man an opportunity to breathe new life into his Liverpool career. There has never been any doubt over Keïta’s abilities when the ingredients are right, and he duly impressed after playing a part in all of his team’s nine games following the Premier League resumption in June.
Looking at the specifics of the midfielder’s game, one criticism levelled during his first season was a perceived lack of risk-taking. The midfielder finished that league campaign with only 0.58 key passes per 90 (KP90) as well as 0.07 expected assists per 90 (xA90).
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In terms of the above metrics, Keïta’s 2019/20 season was considerably better. His key passes rose from 0.58 to 1.66 per 90, while his expected assists increased to 0.36 per 90 (from 0.07). While you could argue that his figures have increased due to smaller sample size, you just need to look at his stats from his final year at RB Leipzig and you will find his recent season, in terms of attacking involvement is similar to the one just gone.
Ultimately, whatever the increase in creative output, Keïta’s contribution always feels likely to be defined by his injury record. More risk-taking means little when there isn’t consistency of availability, and that’s the Guinean’s next task. 812 minutes of playing time isn’t good enough.
Naby Keïta needs to play more next season to dispel the fair doubts that linger over the success of his Liverpool career. With competition for places rarely tougher, the no.8 needs to fight his way to becoming a star man in this Klopp team. Should he do so, he consolidates his status as being worth of that famous shirt. Should he not, and his Anfield tenure may end up being labelled a failure.