How Liverpool could line up with Naby Keita and Fabinho
Liverpool has had the best start to the summer transfer window of any Premier League club, having secured Naby Keita last summer and acquired Fabinho for a fee of around £43.7M, according to The Telegraph. Multiple news outlets such as The Express and The Mirror report that the Reds are also closing in on the signature of Nabil Fekir but for the moment we’ll discuss what we know for sure.
With Emre Can almost certain to leave the Merseyside outfit this summer, Liverpool is in need of young midfield skill with James Milner & Adam Lallana both over the age of thirty. Klopp appears to be looking for an influx of new talent this season. The agreement for Naby Keita, negotiated last summer, is one that not many could argue against despite him having had to play in Leipzig for one more season as it allowed him to further his first-team experience.
In the Champions League for Leipzig, Keita showed his quality as a world-class box-to-box midfielder as he not only put up a combined 5.4 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes but also scored two goals. Hasenhűttl, the manager of RB Leipzig since Keita joined, also plays with a very similar form of pressing football to Klopp’s Gegenpressing and was even quoted as having said ‘Jurgen Klopp & I have the same footballing philosophy’ during an interview with Bundesliga.com where he also discussed how Klopp and himself actually earned their coaching badges together.
While Klopp carries out his work in either a 4-3-2-1 or his more favored staggered 4-3-3, Keita plies his trade in a 4-2-2-2/4-4-2 formation. In his first season, it was consistently a 4-2-2-2 but Hasenhűttl was forced to redesign his system to reduce the workload on his players because of the new Champions League matches and allowed them to form a 4-4-2 when necessary during the game to ease the load of the pressing.
Keita was deployed anywhere within the center of the pitch with RB Leipzig, training in every midfield role the system had to offer. With Liverpool, the Ghanaian could well take up the role Gini Wijnaldum currently occupies for the Reds. As a quick comparison between the two, Wijnaldum provides less than half the defensive work rate shown by Keita with only 2 tackles and interceptions per match and while the Dutchman was involved in seven goals this term, that was ten less than Keita.
One may consider that Wijnaldum may be better on the ball than his soon-to-be teammate but with 1.2 dribbles per game in the league to Keita’s monumental 4.8 and half the number of key passes per 90 made by the former RB Salzburg man, that argument is quickly dismissed.
In Fabinho, Liverpool has found one of the greatest rising talents in his position and a perfect replacement for the aforementioned outgoing Emre Can. As a right-back come defensive midfielder, Fabinho is proficient in both positions but was in midfield for every game he played this season in Jardim’s favored 4-4-2 formation.
Jardim’s twist on the traditional formation involves pushing both the fullbacks and one of the midfielders forward leaving only one midfielder and the center-backs to defend. With this great deal of responsibility, Fabinho has dealt well and managed 4.7 tackles and interceptions per game which safely beats Can's average of 3.7.
The Brazilian most likely will take up the defensive role in Klopp’s staggered midfield and with his rare well-rounded skill-set, proven by his addition of eight goals and five assists from his defensive position last season, should fit the system perfectly. While not as accustomed to pressing as Keita, the former Fluminense player has proven his ability to learn quickly with his eagerness to get on the pitch having played in over 260 games by the age of 24.
With 48% of Monaco’s overall touches coming in the middle of the field, it’s no surprise to see the Brazilian making over 58 passes per 90 and with an accuracy of 86% and an average of 1.1 key passes with 4.7 long balls, his ability to distribute the ball is excellent considering his age. With eight yellow cards in the league in each of the last two seasons, Fabinho’s discipline may have to improve but given the defensive burden on his shoulders, these were most likely tactical fouls to prevent forwards rushing on toward the defence as his temperament looks calm with not a single red card to his name throughout his career so far.
Making an ideal number 6, Fabinho will screen the defense for Liverpool and make further improvements on it having already been shored up with the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk in January. With his level of experience, passing range, a talent for scoring penalties and a monumental work rate along with his youth, the signing of the Brazilian looks to be a certain success for the Reds.
As for how these two additions will improve the midfield, I will speak about this in two veins: with and without the signing of Nabil Fekir because as mentioned in the intro to the article, the Frenchman appears to be keen on a move to the Northwestern club.
With Fekir, one can expect Liverpool to line up with Fabinho in the defensive role while Fekir and Keita take on the burden of linking the midfield with the attack. Fekir, the more natural goalscorer, would most likely take up a position on the left, the side of his stronger foot, further up than Keita.
With Keita replacing Wijnaldum and Fabinho now stepping in for Henderson, Liverpool have an indisputably stronger midfield. Fabinho will screen and protect the defense and may slot back into the role of a center-back for a time while Keita will run between the Frenchman and the Brazilian acting as the primary link, this places a great amount of responsibility on the 23-year-old Ghanaian international but as shown by his stats already it appears he can make the step up and is ready to do so.
His box-to-box qualities mean he can run back and forth between the defense and while he may be weak in the air, Fabinho can make up for this having won the most aerial duels in Ligue 1 last season and for that matter, the most tackles as well. With a staggered midfield of Fabinho, Keita then Fekir, Liverpool are most certainly in for a treat to watch their side play next year as they press their opposition into submission like they have done so many times this season.
Without Fekir, the Reds still pose a threat to any opposition with starting midfield trio of Fabinho, Keita and possibly a resurgent Lallana. This system would involve both advanced midfielders possibly playing a parallel role to each other. Both Keita and Lallana have already shown themselves to be extremely talented pressers and this system would allow Firmino to drop back further than with Fekir behind him and create space for the wingers to score as he’s done many a time this season.
With both the quality and quantity of service that would be provided to Salah and Mané, the impact of these two signings in shoring up Liverpool’s defense as well as further improving their mesmerizing attack could be enough to win the club its first domestic league title in nearly thirty years or perhaps the Champions League they came so close to this season.