The time has come for Naby Keita to FINALLY step up for Liverpool after an impressive pre-season… Jurgen Klopp is yet to replace Gini Wijnaldum and the Guinean now has the chance to shrug off his injury woes and live up to his £52m price tag
- Naby Keita has had a solid pre-season and should start for Liverpool at Norwich
- He needs to step up and play consistently after three injury-plagued campaigns
- With Gini Wijnaldum exiting the club, Keita has a chance for regular minutes
- The Guinean has impressed in flashes but needs to add reliability to his game
- He looks fit and sharp in pre-season and now the time for him to shine has come
The question on Liverpool fans’ lips this summer has been who will Jurgen Klopp buy to replace Gini Wijnaldum? Naby Keita may prove the solution is already at Anfield.
Keita has failed to live up to the hype that accompanied his £52million move from RB Leipzig in 2017. Klopp wanted him so badly that he was willing to buy the Guinean 12 months before his release clause kicked in.
Upon his arrival, the German described his new player as ‘the complete midfielder’ and Keita boldly took the No 8 shirt, which hadn’t been worn since Steven Gerrard left the club.
Naby Keita has a chance to nail down a regular Liverpool spot and looks to be fit and sharp
His time at Liverpool has been plagued by fitness problems so far after his £52million move
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, who coached Keita at RB Leipzig, was also generous with his praise, insisting Keita ‘can make it at every club in the world’ and describing him as ‘one of the best I’ve worked with in 20 years of professional football.’
But three years on since his arrival, Keita is yet to fully establish himself as a regular in the Liverpool midfield and it does feel like he might be running out of chances to cement his place.
The crux of Keita’s issues at Liverpool has been injuries. He has played 76 times for the Reds in his three seasons at the club. In comparison, Andy Robertson made 50 appearances last season alone.
Keita has never been able to build any momentum. Too often he has enjoyed a run of five or six games, turning in performances that show he might be building up form and fitness but then a niggling injury will rob him of progress.
When he does play, the 26-year-old has proven to be a good link between the defence and attack. Picking up possession in his own half, Keita has shown he has the pace and agility to carry the ball downfield and offload a pass to a team-mate.
There are flashes of brilliance that leave Liverpool fans wanting more but, sadly, Keita is never on the pitch long enough to make them a regular occurrence.
Jurgen Klopp was desperate to sign Keita and paid his release clause 12 months in advance
Klopp was asked about Keita towards the back end of last season when he managed to get back to fitness but the Reds were struggling to make changes as they sought consistency in the top-four face.
It also came at a time when speculation was beginning to surface that Liverpool may look to cash in on him in the summer window. But the German was adamant that Keita’s future lies on Merseyside.
Klopp said: ‘Naby trains really well in the moment, I have to say.
‘He trains really well, like a lot of other players, and looks really good in training. But this year now we need stability.
‘We will make changes from time to time definitely, but it’s not like we pick now seven, eight, nine players to change and say, “Maybe we can win it like this.”
‘The long-term future of Naby Keita, from my point of view, is here, yes.’
But Keita has impressed in pre-season with Liverpool looking to fill Gini Wijnaldum’s void
Keita is in contention to start for Liverpool at Norwich on Saturday night
But Wijnaldum’s departure on a free transfer, he has since joined the revolution at Paris Saint-Germain, opens up a space in the Liverpool midfield that the Dutchman has had on lockdown since he made the switch from Newcastle.
And Keita, looking fit and sharp, has had an impressive pre-season as Liverpool’s midfield options jostle to make the team for their Premier League opener at Norwich on Saturday night.
There is definitely a chance for him to start at Carrow Road, given Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara have only recently returned from their summer breaks.
Klopp is expected to name a midfield consisting of Fabinho at the base with any of Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and James Milner alongside them.
Liverpool have been linked with Yves Bissouma, Youri Tielemans, Florian Neuhaus and Saul Niguez among others this summer but transfer activity has been relatively quiet at Kirkby with a focus on shifting some deadwood to bolster the funds.
But in Keita, Liverpool do have someone who feels like a new signing. He promised so much when he arrived at Anfield and now needs to deliver with the gaping hole left by Wijnaldum’s exit.