On the most recent edition of the AI Pro Euro Incision Podcast, Jonathan Harding discussed Naby Keïta, a player who most Liverpool fans cannot wait to see in the end jersey.
Last season was a real coming of age for Keïta, as he set himself out as one of the best young prospects in world football – a diminutive figure on the field, but in terms of influence, a giant, blessed with a beautifully rounded offensive game.
Harding drew attention to just how Keïta plays, particularly his dribbling – describing how almost every weekend Keïta (as a central midfielder) attempts more dribbles and has the most successful dribbles of every player in the Bundesliga.
Indeed, last season, Keïta had one of the best dribbling records in Europe:
(*average per 90)
His 68 dribbles were the best of any midfielder in Europe last season; this season though, Keïta has raised his game to another level.
Harding compared Keïta’s function to that of Messi in the way he operates in midfield: picking the ball up, taking on players, and then passing it off.
‘Naby Keïta’s dribbling ability for a CM is more becoming of a player in Messi’s role, and type of player.
He’s just the type of guy that makes direct runs, takes on players and skins them.
For a CM to be doing that, at the same time as retaining an above 80pc pass success rate is [enter appropriate superlative here].’
Indeed, Keïta’s passing figures are fantastic too: in 5 Bundesliga matches this season, Keïta has one assist and averages 1.8 key passes per game, whilst in the Champions League, he averages 2.0 key passes per game, and with an 80.2pc and 84.3pc pass success rate in both competitions respectively.
Furthermore, Keïta does not just penetrate with his dribbling, his through-ball rate exceeds that of Coutinho, this season, with 0.8 per game in the Bundesliga, and 0.5 per game in the Champions League, whilst last season it was equal to Coutinho. This level of improvement and progression is phenomenal, and it’s clear to see why Liverpool pulled out all the stops to secure his services.
Harding compares Keïta to Henderson though, noting that not many central midfielders even have the capacity to do what Keïta is doing regularly. Indeed, he went on to say:
‘He controls, the game, makes the tackles, tracks back… [the] perfect pivot between attack and defence’
Keïta’s multifaceted game means that when he picks the ball up, he has the ability, variety and decision making to opt for a short-pass, long-pass, or instead to simply drive with the ball – meaning he is a constant threat to opposition sides. Currently, Liverpool’s midfield is a tad sluggish and reliant on Coutinho to add impetus, dynamism and creativity from deep – whilst the real threat to opposition teams comes from the wide men, Salah and Mané – Liverpool’s two best players in terms of take-ons.
Harding went on to conclude:
‘The amount of vision and quality in his arsenal is just insane…
‘If he’s already having this combination play with Augustin, or Bruma, or Forsberg, how do you think he’ll get on with Mané, Salah, Firmino and Coutinho?’
And that’s the most exciting thing about Keïta and Liverpool. When Liverpool get it right, they can blow away almost any team in Europe on a given day – once you add Naby Keïta into the mix, who will not only suit the team but actually get the very best out of players like Salah and Mané with his space-creating runs and frequency of passes, Liverpool’s midfield changes from a talented one to a genuine title challenging one – finally addressing the midfield qualitative deficit that Liverpool have had since the departure of Alonso, and then Gerrard. Liverpool won’t just be ‘getting it right’ more often, they’ll be getting even better – and when we think of some of the barnstorming displays we’ve seen under Klopp – the away victory against City or Arsenal’s 4-0 drubbing at Anfield – there’s actually a capacity there to improve, and finally push onto the highest level.
There’s no other way about it: Keïta is the hottest midfield prospect in world football – and he’s on his way to Liverpool.
You can listen to the full Euro Incision Podcast with Jonathan Harding on our AnfieldIndex Pro platform, it only costs £4.99 per month or £39.99 per year to join and has podcasts featuring Liverpool legends like Jan Molby, Peter Beardsley, tactical analysis from Paul Dalglish and the best statistical analysis on the internet from our Under Pressure Podcast.
A snippet from the show can be found below via our Facebook page.