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Why Naby Keita's Liverpool struggles are not a cause for concern

Keita in action during Liverpool
Keita in action during Liverpool's recent draw against Leicester in midweek
Matt Addison
Modified 14 Feb 2019, 09:52 IST

Naby Keita, Liverpool's £52.75 million midfield signing from RB Leipzig, arrived at Anfield with heightened expectations - which were allowed to fester for 12 months by him remaining in Germany for an additional season as part of the deal.

Barcelona and Bayern Munich were just two of the other notable teams in for the Guinean’s signature before he elected to move to Merseyside, partly owing to the charismatic Jurgen Klopp being there.

Heralded as someone who was a mix of Andres Iniesta and N'Golo Kante – in hindsight, a less than helpful comparison – Keita is yet to truly ignite in a Reds shirt. So far this season, he has only contributed one assist in 17 matches in the Premier League and yet to find the back of the net himself. That though, is no reason to doubt his ability.

Keita has never been a consistent goalscorer in his career. He scored just six last season for Leipzig and there have been occasional flashes of quality from the number eight. As yet, he has not hit the heights that convinced Klopp to spend big money on the midfielder, but there are mitigating factors.

Position and responsibility changes

At Leipzig, where he was the main man under Ralph Hasenhüttl, Keita was deployed as an out-and-out number ten. For Liverpool though, he has regularly been shifted out into wider areas or in a more conservative midfield role.

Keita under pressure during Liverpool
Keita under pressure during Liverpool's dramatic win over Crystal Palace last month

He has also only managed 90 minutes once in the league since the opening day of the season – his best performance in a Liverpool shirt against West Ham United – in the victory at Turf Moor against Burnley, so it is of little surprise his confidence is flagging.

While at Leipzig, Keita took more risks with the ball, but too often for Liverpool his first thought is the safe pass. There have been glimmers of his ability but just not for the entirety of a full 90 yet.

Patience is needed, as he settles into a new league


All players need time to adjust and there is absolutely no doubt that Klopp will continue to persevere with his man; there is every chance he will start at the London Stadium against West Ham on Monday night, a team against which he has already performed well against this term.

Andy Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both took time to adjust to life at Anfield and the pair were coming from other Premier League sides. It makes sense that acclimatizing to a new league would take longer.

Criticism of the fact he's struggled to learn English is fair, having had a year to grasp at least some level of the language since the move from Leipzig in 2017 was confirmed. He's still only 23, has never lived in England before and these things take time.

Keita in Champions League action for Leipzig against AS Monaco in a 2017 group stage clash
Keita in Champions League action for Leipzig against AS Monaco in a 2017 group stage clash

Leipzig are also a completely different proposition to Liverpool. The pressure to perform is as high as anywhere across the world and the fans' expectation is to win, regardless of the opposition they face.

Couple the club's expectation with the price-tag, the combined weight of the two is a significant one to bare. In time, there's no reason why he cannot come to terms with it.

Football is about moments and it might only take one for everything to click into place. Had he been awarded the foul inside the penalty area by referee Martin Atkinson against Leicester, he could have been the hero - which could've resulted in a welcome kick-start for his confidence.

Keita was unfortunate not to have been awarded a spot-kick after Ricardo Pereira
Keita was unfortunate not to have been awarded a spot-kick after Ricardo Pereira's challenge

If Liverpool were not currently five points clear at the top of the league, the scrutiny on Keita and his performances would have quickly intensified. Nonetheless, his struggles this season should be no major cause for concern, as next season might be the campaign where he begins to flourish and justify the hype behind his arrival.

One thing is sure: Klopp won’t give up on him. Keita remains the perfect midfielder for his playing style and will be patient in seeing he finds form soon.

Published 03 Feb 2019, 08:00 IST
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