Let’s cast our minds back to a cold, dark Wednesday night at Turf Moor in December.
Jürgen Klopp took his Liverpool team to take on Sean Dyche’s Burnley and selected Naby Keita in central midfield for the second consecutive match after an injury lay-off had seen him reduced to watching his team mates from the side-lines.
Keita had enjoyed a solid start to the season for the Reds, but injuries disrupted things for him, but he came in against Burnley and produced a dazzling display and was influential at both ends of the pitch.
The Guinean was unfortunate not to net his first Liverpool goal but earned many plaudits for his incisive attacking play, combative presence in midfield and vital involvements in defence – aas he got a crucial block on goal-bound strike from Jack Cork.
Naby was direct when he got on the ball and was always driving forward, breaking the Burnley lines with his running and passing, and doing it all at break-neck pace which caused the Clarets untold amounts of problems.
In summary, Naby Keita produced the type of performance that day that has been missing from Liverpool’s play in the land six matches when he has only completed a full 90 minutes twice against West Ham and Bournemouth.
So as Burnley prepare to travel to Anfield for the return fixture, the question remains as to whether Klopp will bring Keita back into the starting XI in another must win fixture for Liverpool.
Keita successfully recovered possession 10 times during the fixture over the festive period last year, provided two key attacking passes, had a 93% pass completion rate and, as previously mentioned, was only denied a goal by an outstanding Joe Hart save and saved his team’s blushes at the other end with a fantastic block.
Compare that to the stats of Wijnaldum and Milner who, between them, made only five ball recoveries and one key pass during the game against Everton last week, and you start to see where the argument comes from to re-introduce Keita against Burnley.
The game promises to follow a much similar pattern to the Merseyside derby, with Burnley likely to sit deep in an attempt to frustrate Liverpool and limit the space left in behind their midfield and defence for the Reds to exploit.
There was a distinct lack of penetration in the Everton game, as well as the away trip to Manchester United where Keita was also an absentee, so surely Sunday represents a perfect opportunity for him prosper and drive at the heart of Burnley’s midfield and defence to create something for his team.
With all due respect to Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum, but they can sometimes be a little more industrious than creative, and it’s not been difficult to see that that’s what’s missing at the moment.
Salah, Mané and Firmino have been in bitty form of late, and perhaps this has something to do with the service that’s being supplied to them by the midfield.
Fabinho has been a revelation in the middle of the park, and is easily one of the most progressive players Klopp has at his disposal while also providing the defensive rigidity to balance the team. So surely playing him alongside Naby would be an ideal solution to the lack of chances being created?
Two young, fast, dynamic and robust lads in the middle of the park who are constantly looking to drive forward at a static Burnley sounds like an ideal way to play through them.
Something’s got to change anyway, because the midfield can’t carry on like this. Whether Klopp opts for Keita or takes an arguably bigger risk by playing the more attack-minded Xherdan Shaqiri remains to be seen, but there needs to be a rejig in the middle.
And for me, Keita is the obvious answer.