Much has been made of the indiscipline of Naby Keita last season after picking up three red cards in seven games for club and country, paying fees in excess of £50m should be a cause of concern, some say, for an individual who is over-aggressive and struggles to keep himself on the field for 90 minutes.
Liverpool fans have had to wait 12 months for the arrival of the Guinean midfielder which may have seemed like a life time for some, after the Reds to agree to pay the £47m release clause with an additional premium on top. After finally getting to see a glimpse of Keita in action during pre-season, there is no wonder why he has inherited the famous number eight shirt at Anfield.
In the Bundesliga last season for RB Leipzig, the 23-year-old was very successful within manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s 4-2-2-2 system as one of two deep lying midfielders but was given the freedom to roam from his position and create as more of a box-to-box player. His intensity and organisation really did turn the heads of Liverpool, the king of breaking up opposition attacks and aided springing key passes from deep to start an offensive move. This is very much Jurgen Klopp’s style of football.
Lightning quick over short distances, he instantly puts pressure on the opposition and collects the ball within areas of significant danger, quick and fast attacking transitions are all part of the Liverpool manager’s “heavy metal football” with high, intense pressing on the ball and brisk counter-attacks and will prove to be an effective asset offensively.
With the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in the side, again this will give the creative initiative that the 23-year-old craves, moving the ball through the channels to the likes of Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah and in a position to create and assist. This will make Liverpool more attractive to watch off the ball as well as on it.
Keita will carry characteristics that his midfield colleagues do not possess and vice versa. The Guinean will provide plenty of tactical variety which will provide the knowledge that no player is the same. Gini Wijnaldum is athletic and attackingly intelligent, timing his runs into the box and creating space in behind but does not get involved enough in his own half of the field. Henderson provides a decent range of passing but lacks athleticism and can be risk-averse at times; while Fabinho will protect the back four and control the tempo of the game giving Keita the freedom.
He carries the hidden x-factor that has been missing from Liverpool for a few years now, in relation to being dynamic, hard-working and instinctively creative. All of this will help Liverpool become quicker and more effective in their transitional play, and able to get the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in areas where they are most effective in their play.
As we’ve seen in the friendlies so far, he has occasionally caught ahead on the ball, leaving room in behind for possible counter attacks and his aggression could overspill as we’ve seen with Leipzig. But his talent cannot be ignored, the kind of all-round midfielder that we haven’t seen since the likes of, dare it be said, Steven Gerrard.