Naby Keïta joined Liverpool from RBLeipzig in July, as a result of the agreement made between the clubs last summer. Keïta joins for approximately £52.75m but the Guinea national football team captain and his style of play may not be familiar with many fans of the Premier League. Keïta’s previous experience consists of spells in France’s Ligue 2 and Austria’s A. Bundesliga before, most recently, his two seasons with RB Leipzig in the German Bundesliga.
How Does Naby Keïta Play?
Keïta is often categorised as a box-to-box midfielder but this description fails to recognise how attacking and creative Keïta is. Naby Keïta is far more direct and offers a more threatening alternative to Liverpool’s first choice midfielders of last campaign. According to whoscored.com, Keïta attempted more shots per game, completed more key passes per game, and made more dribbles per game (in league matches) in the 2017/8 season than each of Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Keïta is extremely confident and this is obvious every time he touches the ball. He plays with flair, attempting backheels and pieces of skill so frequently it seems like he’s just showing off. When in possession he is very ambitious, running with the ball when more conservative players wouldn’t. Keïta plays with attacking intent, for Leipzig he averaged a goal or an assist in roughly every second league game.
Keïta offers far more with the ball than without the ball. His work rate is impressive, but he isn’t particularly good defensively. Being listed at only 5’8, Keïta doesn’t win many aerial duels and doesn’t have the ability to help out the defence in this regard. He shows great energy and impressive work rate in closing down opponents effectively, but commits a lot of fouls. Keïta often awkwardly stabs his foot in the direction of the ball when making tackles. Occasionally he gets beaten by his opponent or fouls him as a result.
Keïta picks up a lot of yellow cards because of his tackling style and has been sent off several times in his career. He received a straight red card last season for endangering an opponent when his studs make contact with an opponent’s face in a poor attempt to play the ball. In the 2017/8 season for Leipzig, Keïta missed five league games due to suspension as a result of his poor discipline and his ability to defend, along with his discipline, are the weakest areas of his game.
What to Expect From Naby Keïta at Liverpool
Keïta played with Sadio Mané at RB Salzburg and the understanding that the two have is evident. When Mané drifts more centrally, Keïta will often move into the space left by him. Keïta has the ability to be effective on the wing having played there previously in his career. When Mané moves wider, Keïta takes up a more advanced central position, threatening the defence. Liverpool have the potential to overload the left side of the pitch with Mané and Keïta thanks to the runs made by Keïta and the positions he takes up. Mané and Keïta occupy defenders, giving Andy Robertson space to overlap into. This is part of why Robertson has had so much success early this season.
As was the case for Liverpool’s first goal this season, against West Ham, when the opposition has to attempt to defend Mané and Keïta, this often leaves Robertson unmarked in attacking positions. Liverpool will create a lot of chances from these positions unless opponents hamstring themselves offensively in order to defend this threat.
First matches at Liverpool
Liverpool’s recent 2-0 win against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park is a great example of the kind of games in which Keïta can shine. Early in the game, after picking up the ball close to his own penalty area, he beat the opposition player marking him before completing a perfectly placed pass through to Mohamed Salah, in behind the last defender. His direct, attacking mentality combined with his technical ability will create chances for Liverpool even against well-organised defensive sides. Liverpool have occasionally struggled against teams playing this way, and Keïta’s addition represents a step in the right direction.
Liverpool were unbeaten at home last season, but drew seven games. Dropping points to the likes of Burnley and Stoke and Keïta’s impact will be the biggest in these games. Against a team sitting deep, Naby Keïta is less likely to be patient than Jordan Henderson, and is likely to punish you more often. Keïta will inevitably get time on the ball in these games and this is when he is most dangerous. Not content to just keep possession, Keïta will take players on, play accurate balls behind the defence. He also take shots from outside the area. Keïta might not score as many goals or get as many assists as he did when playing for RB Leipzig, but he gives Liverpool a greater chance to pick up three points in these games and that makes him a potentially huge addition to Jürgen Klopp’s squad.