Opinion: Naby Keïta's impact at Liverpool so far

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool FC - Premier League
Naby Keita (l)

Naby Keïta has had a rather low-key start to his Liverpool career. Having arrived in the summer for €60 million with comparisons of Deco, Iniesta and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard hyping up his arrival, many fans would be forgiven for expecting an all action arrival full of goals, assists, and crunching tackles, coupled with the lock-picking finesse associated with Deco and Iniesta.

Statistically, when profiling the player in the past, leaders in the field such as Ted Knutson demonstrated how he could do "everything at an elite level".

He could break up play like Kanté, complete more dribbles per 90 than almost every player in the Bundesliga, while also leading the league in goals from outside the box, and cut through teams with through balls if given time on the ball.

While we haven't seen much from him in terms of goals or assists as of yet, there have been a few moments which show that we can expect more in the future such as his involvement in the opening goal of the season at West Ham, or his beautiful turn and chip through-ball against Crystal Palace.

His debut against West Ham remains his most impressive attacking performance in red, including a mazy dribble into the box that had Premier League fans reminiscing the days of Kinkladze and Juninho.

Keita's Match Involvement map from
Keïta's match involvement map

What we are seeing plenty of since however is the disruptive side of his game. Today against Tottenham Hotspur, he completed shut down the progress of Spurs down their right hand side, creating the Naby Keïta zone of death - where Spurs went with the ball to see their attacks die.

Heatmaps of both Rose & Trippier for Spurs v Liverpool (Courtesy of Sofascore)
Heat maps of both Rose and Trippier for Spurs v Liverpool (Courtesy of Sofascore)

Perhaps his most memorable moment of the game was his block in the penalty area, highlighted with a bright red dot above in our own box in his match involvement graphic. This passage of play prevented an almost certain goal as Moura had pulled off his marker into space in the penalty area.

However, Keïta killed the attack by blocking the intended cross. Their struggles to progress the ball on that side of the pitch is highlighted by the fact that Trippier had the lowest passing accuracy of all Spurs players at just 67 percent.

As you can see above, whilst Rose managed to progress the ball down Liverpool's right side of the pitch, on the left Trippier had no such success as Keïta (combined with Mané and Robertson of course) completely shut that side of the pitch down.

Is there more to come?

So the question perhaps is what more can be expected of Keïta once he has acclimatised to Premier League football and Klopp's system?

Enter cRaption
Radar statistically comparing Keïta and Kanté

As you can see in the radar, he almost matches the involvement of Kante in terms of defensive contribution. However, where he excels is in the penetration and finishing phases of play. He is an elite dribbler, and is also getting the ball into the penalty box at a very high level.

In the final third, he was highly involved in both the creating of, and scoring of goals for Leipzig. His numbers for Liverpool are considerably lower than those he was putting up at Leipzig though, with just 0.6 dribbles per 90 minutes played (down from 3.1), 0.6 chances created per 90 (down from 1.8) and 1.4 shots per 90 (down from 2.0).

However, if we look at the xG build-up from, which is the expected goals involvement for all the attacking chances he is involved in where he does not make the assisting pass or final shot, this is up from 0.23 per 90 to 2.16 per 90.

His passing accuracy is also up from 81.4 percent to 88.4 percent so far this season coupled with a reduction in the number of long passes being played, down from 1.5 to 0.6.

All this suggests that his role at Liverpool so far has been somewhat refined. He is more focused on playing short passes, maintaining possession and supporting the attack rather than being the player involved at the end of attacking moves himself, compared to the more direct approach of his passing at Leipzig and the need to do everything himself.

I suspect as he settles into life at Liverpool, he will increasingly look to impose himself on sides rather than just fleeting moments as we have seen so far.

Until then, we will just need to make do with a central midfielder with a higher xG build-up than Jorginho (2.16 vs 1.93) who can shut down his zone of the pitch to prevent any attacking progress through the Naby Keita zone of death.

Edited by Anthony Akatugba Jr.


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