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Scout Report: Naby Keita, RB Leipzig's young midfielder

SCHLADMING, AUSTRIA - JULY 08:  Naby Keita of Red Bull Salzburg controls the ball during the friendly match between Red Bull Salzburg and West Brom on July 8, 2015 in Schladming, Austria.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Is Keita the next big Bundesliga star?

Bundesliga newbies RB Leipzig have been a revelation ever since their inception in 2009. The club that made the cut for Bundesliga courtesy of a 2nd place finish in the Bundesliga II during the 2015-16 season now sits in the 2nd place in the Bundesliga table, 8 points behind the German heavyweights Bayern Munich.

Led by the Austrian Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Leipzig club have been in imperious form throughout the season so far and are fast establishing themselves as an elite club in Germany.

The side’s rise to prominence has shone a positive spotlight on many of their players, including a young midfielder who has proved himself to be a valuable addition to the unit since joining them in the summer of 2016, Naby Keita.

Background

Born in the Guinean capital of Conakry on 10th February 1995, Keita began his footballing journey at his hometown club Horoya AC at a tender age of 9. Soon, the player was on the move as French club FC Istres recognised the talent he possessed and signed him up in the summer of 2013.

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Keita made an instant impact with the French side as he played a pivotal role during their 2013-14 season in Ligue 2. His impressive performances earned him a move to the Austrian Bundesliga side RB Salzburg with whom he brought his talent to the forefront and enjoyed a successful two years between 2014 and 2016 on an individual as well as collective level.

Keita moved to his current club RB Leipzig in the summer of 2016 for a fee believed to be in the region of €15 million and continues to add to his credentials with performances that have helped his side climb to the 2nd spot in the Bundesliga table.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - JULY 11:  Naby Keita (L) of Salzburg and Jay Rodriguez (R) of Southampton fight for the ball during the pre-season match for the 3rd place between FC Red Bull Salzburg and Southampton FC as part of the Audi Quattro Cup 2015 at Red Bull Arena on July 11, 2015 in Salzburg, Austria.  (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)
Keita in action for Salzburg

Style of play and strengths

Though the 22-year-old has often been deployed as a defensive midfielder throughout his career thus far, it is actually in the central midfield role that the player has showcased his true potential. He efficiently stitched up play between the defence and attack while continuing to be a destructive presence for the opposition in midfield.

The diminutive Guinean international’s biggest strengths are his abilities on the ball. He is calm and collected in possession as well as with his passing, efficiently links up the play between the defence and attack and has the ability to carry his team forward in attack with his enforcing presence at the heart of his side’s midfield.

An athletic and relentless midfielder, Keita is not afraid to get into a scrap and is always willing to put his body on the line for the cause of his side.

While he might not be very successful in winning tackles and interceptions, he ensures that his presence is felt by the opposition constantly by robbing them of time and space to operate in. To complement his athleticism, Keita also possesses great vision and understanding of the game; it comes as no surprise that he has raked in an average of 3 interceptions per 90 minutes during his time in the Bundesliga in the current season.

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However, it is his maturity as a player that has truly impressed pundits. During his time at Salzburg, the midfielder was often caught making rash decisions, a flaw in his game that he has effectively weeded out over the course of the last few months.

Another aspect of his game that has garnered the requisite attention is his contribution to his side’s attack. He creates chances frequently and has conjured up a goal scoring opportunity for his teammates every 45 minutes during his time on the pitch in the Bundesliga.

Weaknesses

While Keita has shrugged off a number of flaws in his game over his young career, it goes without saying that he still needs to fine-tune certain aspects of his game to truly become the force he has been touted to be. One of the aspects of his game that has to be improved is his efficiency in tackling.

While he does make a lot of tackles to throw the opposition off balance, he does not win as many as he loses on the ground as well as in the air. In the current season, he has won just 27.5% of his duels in the air or on the ground and the player will be keen to improve on this aspect.

Another feature of his game that the Guinean will be keen to strengthen in is his finishing. His attacking nature ensures that he is presented with numerous opportunities during his time on the pitch and if Keita adds this aspect to his game, he could be a force to reckon with.

What’s next?

Having joined RB Leipzig in a big money move only in the summer of 2016, and contractually obliged to the club until the end of 2019-20 season, we do not envisage Keita moving to greener pastures for at least another year. However, should he continue to impress like he has done so far, Leipzig should remain pragmatic of their chances of holding on to their rising midfielder unless they can continue to achieve greater things in the near future.

Also Read: 10 best U-23 midfielders in the world right now

Keita has garnered a lot of positive attention from his colleagues and coaches during his short career thus far and it was his former national coach Luis Fernandez compared him to one of the finest midfielders to have ever graced the game – Andres Iniesta – high praise, indeed. The former French midfielder was quoted as saying. “Naby is strong and intelligent, he reminds me of Andres Iniesta."

At the moment, the short-term goal for the player should be ensuring that his side qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League. In time, we expect him to eventually move to one of the heavyweights of European football and if his years at Salzburg and Leipzig are anything to go by, the time might not be too far away.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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