Naby Keita Could Be Key In Liverpool’s Run In

April 16, 2019

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Liverpool weren’t wholly convincing in their crucial 2-0 win over Chelsea on Sunday, but did just enough when it mattered to secure a huge three points. Second half goals from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in the space of three minutes wrapped up a first home win over the Blues since 2012.

More importantly, victory moved the Reds back to the top of the Premier League table after Manchester City’s 3-1 win at Crystal Palace earlier on Sunday. Liverpool lead the way by two points, albeit having played a game more than their title rivals, and they need to continue winning if they are to hold out any hope of being crowned champions.

However, while City have a one-game advantage, Liverpool have by far the easier run in. Meetings with bottom half trio Cardiff, Huddersffield and Newcastle lead up to a final day welcome of Wolves. City, meanwhile, take on Tottenham this weekend and follow up that with the Manchester Derby before rounding off the campaign against Burnley, Leicester and Brighton.

In the past, though, Liverpool would have slipped up against one of Cardiff, Huddersfield and Newcastle, with part of their problem last season coming in dropping points against those they should be beating. While this side to their game has reared its ugly head once more on occasion, with draws against Leicester, West Ham and Everton prime examples, a summer splurge saw Jurgen Klopp make key additions to the squad that allowed them to overcome staunch opponents.

The arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri is perhaps the standout example, with the Swiss an additional offensive threat that helped keep the attack fresh and firing. Indeed, his man of the match display in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester United back in December, a win that could prove decisive in the grand scheme of things, was proof enough that Liverpool’s investment in Shaqiri was a worthy one.

Brazilian pair Alisson and Fabinho have proven crucial cogs in this Liverpool machine, but as the season comes to a head, it’s Naby Keita who could prove Klopp’s secret weapon in the run in. The Guinean was signed in 2017 from RB Leipzig on the back of a stunning season in Germany where he ranked second for accurate through balls (7) and successful dribbles (83) in the Bundesliga, as per WhoScored.com.

His final campaign saw him top for accurate through balls (9) and third for successful dribbles (67) and while his ill-discipline became cause for concern – he received seven yellows and two reds that season – Liverpool fans were rightly excited for how their midfield would look last summer with both Keita and Fabinho added to the ranks.

The former, though, took his time to adjust to Premier League football. Signed for just shy of £53m, there was ample pressure on Keita to transfer his fine Bundesliga performances to the English game and Klopp was keen to protect the 24-year-old from the spotlight that comes with playing for one of football’s most recognisable teams in arguably the most recognisable league in football. In his outings, he showed glimpses of his talent – a moment in the 2-0 win at Crystal Palace back in August highlighted his quality to shake off opponents and set Liverpool on the front foot as he turned his marker before playing a raking pass for Mohamed Salah – yet inconsistency issues dented his immediate impact on Merseyside.

As such, Klopp has managed his integration very well. He hasn’t forced Keita to adapt immediately and instead allowed him the chance to settle in England before being handed a regular starting berth. Keita’s made only 14 league starts this season, yet only three of those have come against the Premier League’s top six, and one of those came on the left wing, that in the 3-1 win over United back in December.

Yet his every growing influence in the side was evident against Chelsea as Keita demanded his teammates remained calm after going ahead. Despite being two goals down, the Blues were pushing and pressuring Liverpool and came desperately close to halving the deficit through Eden Hazard, who excellently controlled David Luiz’s long ball before hitting the post. It’s this mental quality that showed Keita’s maturity and it will be vital in the coming weeks.

As Liverpool’s number eight, there was a level of expectation that came with taking the famous number following his move to Anfield, yet Keita is beginning to grow into the role and position on Merseyside. With the Reds unbeaten in his 14 league starts, winning 12, as per WhoScored.com, supporters still have every right to expect more from Keita, yet with only a handful of games to play and two trophies still to play for, it could prove to be that the midfielder, not Mane or Salah, to name two, is Liverpool’s most important player in their pursuit of glory.

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Author: Ben McAleer

Ben is a fountain of statistical knowledge at WhoScored.com and has a penchant for all things Luka Modric. Alongside his role at WhoScored.com, you can also find him at Sky Sports, The Guardian and Swansea City

Twitter @BenMcAleer1


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