On August 29, 2017, Liverpool agreed a deal to sign Naby Keita from RB Leipzig for a fee that ended up amounting to £52.75 million. The deal was agreed for Keita to join on July 1, 2018. He received the number eight shirt that was famously worn by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. That alone built this hype around Keita, who Liverpool fans were dying to see in the famous red strip. After he was officially unveiled the following summer under the sun at Melwood, Liverpool fans were counting down the days to see the Guinean international to take the Premier League by storm. However, after an indifferent time at the club, should Liverpool persist with Keita or cut their losses?
Naby Keita: Keep or Sell?
It’s been over 18 months since Naby Keita signed for the Reds. In this time, he’s divided a fan base. Some believe he will shake off his injury struggles he has had to deal with during his time on Merseyside and will become a key component in Jurgen Klopp’s juggernaut. Others feel he’s injury prone and can be replaced by other top midfielders around Europe like, for example, young German prospect Kai Havertz or Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish.
For many Liverpool fans, Keita the replacement for Philippe Coutinho, who left for Barcelona. After a solid pre-season, Keita made his Premier League debut against West Ham United. After a couple more impressive performances against Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion, Liverpool fans believed they had a real gem on their hands. He continued his good start but he picked up a muscular injury that ruled him out for four games; these muscular problems began to become a feature of his first season at the club.
He would then have periods in and out of the team due to injuries. In the Champions League, he had a couple of impressive performances, notably one against Porto in the quarter-final first leg where he scored at Anfield. Keita would play a pivotal role in the run-in, including goals against Southampton and Huddersfield Town, but would ultimately miss the last few games of the season, including the Champions League final, due to a groin injury.
Keita has got little game time this season due to more injuries. So, should Liverpool cut their losses and sell Keita, bringing in someone else, or should they put their trust in the midfielder? The consensus is that Klopp isn’t losing patience with Keita and sees him in his plans, but can Liverpool do better? How does he match up against other top midfielders in the league?
Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans has been touted as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. Despite playing only 358 minutes to Tielemans’ 2162, though, Keita is more than a match to his Belgian counterpart. Keita has two key passes per 90 minutes to Tielemans’ 1.50. Keita almost triples Leicester’s number eight in expected assists per 90.
Tielemans and Keita play in different systems which can make it hard to judge how good Keita is. So, if we compare him to another Liverpool player in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Guinea international still checks out dominating his teammate in most stats, but Oxlade-Chamberlain has played over double the minutes. These stats show Keita offers a different dimension. In fact, Liverpool win 78% of their games in all competitions when he starts as opposed to 61% when he doesn’t.
Stay or Go?
So, should Liverpool replace Naby Keita? Absolutely not. He creates another dimension to this Liverpool team and is a valuable asset. Yes, he has struggled with injuries, especially this season, but the evidence that he can play consistently is there.
Klopp does seem to prefer a defensive midfielder, but Keita is a perfect fit for Liverpool. He is very solid defensively, boasting the most amount of tackles in this year’s Champions League. Keita has an incredibly high ceiling and has the potential the become the league’s best. Who does he replace? Well, that’s for Klopp to decide. But, with Liverpool fighting on multiple fronts, they’ll need a player like Keita to play in 35+ games a season. Klopp will get the best out of him as he has with many others, it’s just a matter of time.