In my first profile of Naby Keïta, I looked at his personal qualities, attributes, and statistics, and then compared him to Gini Wijnaldum, the player who Keita would likely replace in the starting XI, should Liverpool persist with the staggered 4-3-3 system that was broadly successful during the 16-17 season.
In this piece, however, I’ll be looking at Naby Keïta’s statistics in comparison to the rest of Liverpool’s midfielders, in respect to some other Premier League box-to-box, or key midfielders, as well as judging Keïta against Liverpool’s and the Premier League’s best box-to-box midfielder: Steven Gerrard.
First, it’s necessary to look at the quantity of matches played by the selected players. Notably, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Henderson played considerably fewer games, and their figures should be understood within that context. Additionally, this comparison will be limited in some respects, as players such as Kante or Henderson have a vastly different game-style to Keïta, whilst players such as Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain, over the season, both played in positions Keïta would be unlikely to feature in.
For Liverpool, a midfielder consistent in their performance is an absolute necessity, but equally important is their fitness. A top-class player with the ability to play at least 30 league games will be crucial for Liverpool if the club wishes to succeed domestically.
Keïta, during the 16/17 season, suffered three injuries and was ruled out for one league game over the entire season through injury. In August he suffered a bruised metatarsal, which kept him out for 10 days, but Leipzig were fortunate that Keita’s hamstring injury, which ruled him out for 21 days, happened during the winter break. A bruised foot kept Keita sidelined for a mere 5 days in March, and a freak on-pitch collapse, after 90 minutes in March was attributed to circulation problems. Following the collapse, Keita returned to training.
Keïta’s longest period out of action was just over a month, having been infected with malaria, at the start of 2016. Broadly speaking though, Keïta is a fit and robust player, and having him will provide depth to the midfield – one which was stretched paper-thin during 2016/17 as Henderson was sidelined, and Emre Can played with minor injuries for multiple weeks.
|Player||Goals||Gp90||Assists||Ap90||Shots*||Key Passes*||Dribbles*||Dribble Success Rate|
*per 90 minutes
When we look at Keïta’s figures offensively, it’s clear why he is such a coveted player. In terms of goals, he is joint top of the Premier League players selected from the 2016/17 season, with 8, the same as Adam Lallana – impressive when remembering that Lallana functioned in an advanced midfield position, and as part of the front-three across the season. Additionally, his 0.3 Goals per 90 ratio is also the joint-best of the selected players. In terms of Assists per 90, Keita is in joint-second, 0.1 unit behind Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whilst his Shots per 90 is comfortably above the Liverpool midfield average (1.35), and similar to that of Can, Wijnaldum and Lallana – all of whom contributed considerably across the season.
In terms of Key Passes, Keïta is second to Paul Pogba, Manchester United’s playmaker, whilst his Dribbles per 90 rate is also second within the selected 2016/17 players.
Within the eight categories, Keïta features joint first on two occasions, and second, or joint-second, on four. Thus in terms of offensive output, Keïta is clearly a rounded and varied player, with the ability to contribute in multiple ways.
Keïta’s figures actually hold up well against Steven Gerrard’s 09/10 numbers, but at the young age of 22, and with the prospect of Jürgen Klopp’s tutelage, it appears that Keïta may have the ability and potential to try to replicate Gerrard’s phenomenal 08/09 statistics – perhaps his greatest Premier League season.
|Player||Tackles*||Interceptions*||Fouls*||Aerial Duels won*||Aerial Duel Success Rate||Dribbled Past*|
In terms of overall defensive figures, Keïta does not seem so impressive initially. However, what Jürgen Klopp and the coaching staff will find most exciting are Keïta’s figures in the first two columns: Tackles and Interceptions per 90. Henderson leads the way with tackles, at a rate of 3.7 per 90, higher than Chelsea’s N’golo Kante, however, as noted earlier, Henderson’s gametime was limited during the 2016/17 season, and thus the sample size was smaller, so we cannot read too much into Henderson’s figures. What we can read into though is Keita’s impressive 3 Tackles per 90 rate, and the stunning 3.1 Interceptions per 90 rate.
For Jürgen Klopp, the key to an effective pressing system is turning over the ball in transition phases and in crucial areas. With a midfield including Naby Keïta, Liverpool’s ball recovery game and ability to create chances in dangerous areas, high up the pitch, through tackling and interceptions will increase sizeably. Through Keita’s high-intensity work, Liverpool will be better equipped to counter-attack, and counter-press, thus exploiting the all-important half-spaces, that will naturally lead to creating chances and goals.
Keïta’s own playing style fits perfectly within this system too; as a player unafraid to drive forward, and directly at defenders, Liverpool’s front three – likely to be Salah, Firmino and Mané – will find more space to exploit, and more chances to run in behind, or take on a defender one-on-one.
Furthermore, some of the defensive issues that Liverpool suffered during the 2016/17 season stemmed from a lack of midfield protection: with both Keïta and Henderson able to mop up and retain the ball, the propensity for opposition teams to pass through the midfield will be reduced, whilst his direct approach may help alleviate Liverpool’s stagnated quandary against teams which employ the low-block.
Through Keïta, Liverpool will be able to play as it did over the first half of the 2016/17 season: attacking directly down the middle, and through the flanks – Keïta’s rounded game provides variety and depth to the team, however his physical stature may prove to be a concern, as Liverpool already have the shortest, and second lightest starting XI in the Premier League.
Keïta may be unafraid to throw his weight around – evidenced in his 2.6 Fouls per 90 average – but if Coutinho is to play in midfield alongside Keïta too, there is much greater pressure on the defensive midfielder and the two centre-backs to win aerial duels, and this may leave Liverpool even more vulnerable on set-pieces.
|Player||Avg. Pass*||Success Rate||Through Balls*||Key Passes*||Acc LB*||inAcc LB*||Acc SP*||inAcc SP*||Long Balls*|
Keïta’s passing statistics do not immediately stand out, but when we consider he would likely replace Wijnaldum within the starting XI, there are small improvements, that when coupled with his other qualities would make a notable difference to the midfield’s fluidity and efficiency. What these figures fail to highlight though are the types of passes made. For instance, Henderson and Kante’s high pass success rates stem from the demands of their positions and functions not requiring or providing the opportunity for riskier, offensive passes.
Keïta actually has the most ‘progressive passes’ and ‘progressive runs’ through the middle of the pitch than any other Bundesliga player, averaging slightly under two per 90. These aggressive, incisive passes through the heart of the midfield, into the forwards are riskier, direct and exactly what you want from a box-to-box midfielder.
Keïta may not provide variety when it comes to long-passing, but with Coutinho and Henderson, as well as the ball-playing centre-back, Joël Matip, Liverpool will have a range of assets to pressure the opposition and to create chances.
Naby Keïta may well be the closest thing Liverpool have come to replacing the dynamic Steven Gerrard of the 2000s. His direct, aggressive approach fits perfectly within Jürgen Klopp’s playing style and will complement the teammates alongside him. It’s abundantly clear why Klopp has sought out Naby Keïta as he fits the profile of the archetypal ‘Klopp-player’, but also adds depth and quality to an area which Liverpool struggled with during 2016/17. Furthermore, Keïta’s attributes may go a great way in solving the low-block issue that hindered Liverpool’s campaign.
Keïta may break Liverpool’s transfer record, but it’s high time that Liverpool purchased a player with immense quality and potential, and one that may prove to be a mainstay of the team for years to come. This point may well be one from which fans and pundits will look back upon as a key moment, as right now, it certainly seems like one. For Liverpool though, this is an important moment: having looked at Keïta and his numbers, it appears that this is a move with real value, potential, and excitement. Liverpool’s midfield will be a mouth-watering prospect next season, all that remains now are a few pieces left in the jigsaw to create a balanced, strong side with the capacity to challenge at the highest level.
N.B. Ideally, I would have preferred to have just used Gerrard’s figures from what was his best season, in 2008/09, however, rather unfortunately, the majority of statistics relevant to this comparison were only recorded the season afterward.