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Football News: Naby Keita: A review of his progress so far at Liverpool FC

Naby Keita: A review of his progress so far at Liverpool FC
Image from: freelargeimages.com

Since the announcement over a year ago, many Liverpool fans have been looking forward to Keita joining our midfield. In the Bundesliga, we saw a player with the ability to ride a challenge and who saw the game as being about scoring goals. No-one could accuse him of taking too many unnecessary touches (did someone say Lallana? ).

Instead when he gets the ball, his instinct is to either to immediately promote it to someone in a better position, or to drive at the goals to cause panic in opposing defenses. Combined with his ability to read the game and break up play, he was a player whom I was very much looking forward to joining us, to add the dynamism which i felt was lacking. So how has he gone so far?

Against West Ham, we saw possibly the best debut of a Liverpool player for a long time. Time and time again, he was able to wriggle past challenges and drive at the goal. Coupled with the high line that West Ham were playing, it meant that all too often he was faced with defenders on the back of their heels with massive amounts of space behind them into which he could play those killer passes that he loves. I know there were fans who walked away from that match thinking we would win the League if he kept it up.

However, in the next 2 matches, it was like chalk and cheese. He was almost anonymous and in fact was benched for the match against Leicester.
So what happened? In my opinion, much of it was to do with the different tactics that Brighton and Crystal Palace employed. With a much lower line employing 2 blocks of 8-9 players in defence, the space between the midfield and the fullbacks was much smaller. This meant that his favoured tactic of driving into space was largely negated.

In addition to this, its clear that he still has to build an understanding with the front 3. Too often he was guilty of moving too quickly to fill the space left by Firmino. In fact on a number of times he ended up standing still next to either Salah or Mane who had also moved to fill that space. At other times, you could see him anticipating players movement and passing the ball into the wrong channel, giving away cheap possession.

It was particularly noticeable with Mane and Robertson. In addition to this, I think he was guilty of trying to impress, too often trying killer passes which weren't on. Lastly there were also a couple of times, where I noticed him give away possession but then fail to chase back and win it, instead asking team mates to do it. In fact he nearly gave away a goal against Crystal Palace doing this. I do wonder whether this is a sign he is lacking fitness at the moment as he was famed for his work rate at RBL.

 

 

So has Liverpool bought a dud?
Well in my opinion, the answer is no. Much of his deficiencies in those matches should be able to be rectified. For example, if he delays his runs slightly, he should be able to avoid filling the same space as Mane or Salah. It should also mean he doesn't end up being static (Im not convinced he has the skills to play in that role yet as he instinctively doesn't like to hold up the ball) but instead will present a moving target which will create more doubt in the defense's mind. Likewise as understanding develops, we should see his passes going more to their intended target. The matter of overplaying the killer passes is a bit more difficult. He came to us with this already identified as being a problem. However hopefully as he matures and with Klopp's help, he should be able to pick his moments better. However, personally I like the fact he takes risks - one of my big frustrations with Gini is that he too often takes the safe route. So hopefully he doesn't give up on this altogether. The one caveat to all this though is that I doubt he has come up against many teams in the Bundesliga who like to play such a low line. He has the ball skills and the passing range but this season will see whether he has the game intelligence to overcome this.

 

 

Conclusion
If we were to mark him solely on the West Ham match then I would have to give him an A+. However clearly he has work to do both on and off the field so Im scoring him a C+. I expect Klopp to ease him in (as he did with Ox and Robbo), giving him the chance to develop that understanding and to improve his fitness. Klopp is notorious for giving players a chance, so I don't expect this is the last we see of Keita this season.

Written by Phil_LFC September 11 2018 16:26:05

 

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