In Focus: Crunch time for Keita as he reaches Reds crossroads

Tom Hancock
LiveScore
22/12/202111:20
Liverpool's depleted squad means that Naby Keita should get another chance to impress against Leicester this evening
Liverpool's depleted squad means that Naby Keita should get another chance to impress against Leicester this evening

Naby Keita is entering the final 18 months of his Liverpool contract and it is crunch time for the midfield maestro on Merseyside.

The Guinea international has found it tough to nail down a regular spot since his big-money move from RB Leipzig in 2018.

Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago have been Jurgen Klopp's preferred midfield trio this season but Keita returned to the side for Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Tottenham.

And with another start possible in tonight’s Carabao Cup quarter-final clash with Leicester, we take a look at where the playmaker stands at Anfield.

Limited opportunities

Keita has missed 54 games through injury during his first three seasons with Liverpool, representing a sizeable chunk of his time in the North West. 

He only recently returned from over a month out with a hamstring problem.

Even when he has been fit, dislodging the likes of Fabinho, Thiago, Henderson and — before his departure in the summer — Wijnaldum was never going to be easy. 

As a result, Keita has only averaged 9.5 Premier League starts per season.

Naby Keita covers plenty of ground for Liverpool when they are out of possession
Naby Keita covers plenty of ground for Liverpool when they are out of possession

An outstanding player

Keita got the nod from the beginning in the historic 5-0 demolition of Manchester United at Old Trafford, where he opened the scoring and later set up Mohamed Salah.

Following that game, Klopp spoke highly of his star, who bounced back from an error leading to a goal in Liverpool’s 3-2 Champions League win at Atletico Madrid five days earlier.

He said: "Naby is in a great moment. Naby is an outstanding player and we spoke about it, about the game at Atletico.

"He played outstandingly well until he made the mistake around the goal of Atletico after the set-piece and that obviously shattered him a little bit, and that should not happen obviously, that is clear.

"But in such an atmosphere, against such an opponent, all of a sudden when you’re thinking about different things then it can happen.

"But it was clear we would start him again [against Manchester United] because he is in really good shape and he proved us right."

Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita rarely gives the ball away in the centre of the park
Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita rarely gives the ball away in the centre of the park

'Tis the season

The festive season always means rotation and that will only increase with coronavirus cases rising. 

Liverpool will play four games between now and January 2 with two of them coming in the three days after Christmas.

Even if Klopp has the likes of Fabinho, Thiago and Henderson back by then, they are not going to be able to start twice in the space of 72 hours.

That could mean another Premier League opportunity for Keita in either of those matches, at home against Leeds or away to tonight’s opponents Leicester.

He scores when he wants

Keita’s goal at Old Trafford was his 10th for Liverpool. He also scored in the preceding game against Atletico and in the Reds’ 3-0 home win over Crystal Palace in September, making it three in five appearances over that period.

He netted his first three goals for the club within five matches too — and his next three in three appearances. 

With the exception of a lone strike against Chelsea in the penultimate game of Liverpool’s title-winning 2019-20 campaign, Keita bags in batches.

Perhaps because of that, he is underrated as a goal threat. Against Tottenham, the 26-year-old came close to taking his tally for the season to four, testing Hugo Lloris after doing brilliantly to get a shot away on the edge of the box.

Naby Keita can be dangerous when unleashing shots from the edge of the penalty area
Naby Keita can be dangerous when unleashing shots from the edge of the penalty area

AFCON inconvenience?

As expected, Keita has been included in Guinea’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins in Cameroon on January 9.

While he may only end up missing a handful of Liverpool’s games, this break from club action could come at the worst possible time given his recent involvement.

Then again, there is still an awful lot of football left to play this season and it feels like a matter of when and not if injuries open up opportunities to feature.

Speaking about the inevitable loss of Keita, Salah (Egypt) and Sadio Mane (Senegal) for the tournament, Klopp alluded to all three as being irreplaceable — another mark of how highly he rates his No8.

Tags

LiverpoolLeicester CityLeague CupNaby KeitaPremier League

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