Why Naby Keita could be the most crucial component in Klopp’s Liverpool jigsaw
When Liverpool hosted West Ham United for their opening fixture of the season, the result was never in doubt, was it? The Hammers had won just one game at Anfield since 1963 and Jurgen Klopp’s men were in no mood to let that record change. It was just a matter of how many goals. And we got our answer, four.
The Liverpool trio of Salah, Firmino and Mane combined so well that it felt as if we were still in the 2017/18 season. But a certain debutant, Naby Keita left his mark on the game and brought the fans to the edge of their seats.
Liverpool, inarguably, have one of the best attacking trios in world football, but even they struggled to break down some of the tough defences in the Premier League. The arrival of Naby Keita from RB Leipzig gives Liverpool the attacking impetus in the midfield. It reduces the burden on the likes of Firmino and Mane to drop deep and create goals as well as try and get at the end of it.
For Liverpool’s first goal against West Ham, Keita received the ball in the midfield and seeing that there was no one near him apart from Mark Noble, he ran with the ball for around 30 yards on the left-hand channel.
This move attracted the central defenders and the left-back of West Ham towards him and then at the perfect moment, he released the ball out wide to Roberston. The weight on the ball was so good that it allowed Robertson to deliver a first-time cross into the box which Salah finished.
Before this season, Liverpool had depth in midfield but had players of similar attributes in the likes of Henderson, Can and Milner. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed flashes of such ability to link up between the defence and the attack before getting injured in April.
Keita didn’t stop after the first goal. He was constantly finding the clever runs made by the full-backs. His sizzling chemistry with Robertson was there to be seen as he made 21 passes to the Scotsman alone. When Mane tucked inside with Firmino, Keita popped up on the left-wing and cut inside to draw the full-backs. This allowed Robertson to go on his lung-bursting overlap runs and get a good cross into the box.
Keita’s numbers for this game were off the charts too. He completed 89% of his passes, out of which 19 of them were in the final third. He was involved in 9 recoveries, completed 2 dribbles, made 1 interception and 1 key pass.
Naby Keita had similar stats during his two-year stint at RB Leipzig where he made 58 appearances for the German club. He scored 14 goals and provided 12 assists (5th highest among midfielders). He also played 16 through balls and completed 150 dribbles, topping the charts in both departments (among the midfielders).
West Ham was probably one of the easiest fixtures the Guinean international would face in England. But if he manages to give such performances consistently, he might very well be the final piece of the jigsaw for Liverpool that would enable them to mount a title challenge.