Naby Keita has been a starter in all the Premier League games, added to his appearances at the tail end of last season — the biggest run of consecutive starts in the Guinean’s spell at the club with five league starts on the bounce.
The injuries which scuppered the 25-year-olds attempts to build consistency at Anfield now appear to be a thing of the past and the former Red Bull Leipzig midfielder is enjoying his best form since moving to England.
What is becoming more noticeable is the way in which Keita is counterbalancing his god-given on the ball talents — the slaloming dribbles and ambitious passing — with tactical discipline and awareness.
The below clip, taken from the Reds 3-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield on Monday night, showcases the Guinean international’s newfound defensive diligence and awareness.
The temptation, with Liverpool pouring forward with their characteristic pace and swagger, would be to bomb forward but Keita — recognising that he might leave the team exposed if he ran further up the field — drops back in order to lend a defensive helping hand in the event of a turnover of possession.
Sadio played so well this game. But watch Keita, his instinct is to go forward but realises Fabinho is advanced & he needs to be in a covering position in case move breaks down and he drops back. It's this kind of tactical awareness from LFC midfielders which helps stop counters. https://t.co/L1KYOoukAK
— Red (@TaintlessRed) September 29, 2020
There were some trademark Keita moments — similar pieces of skill that whet the appetite of every Youtube scouting Liverpool fan when the midfielder was first linked with the Reds — added into the mix, too.
For the Champions’ first goal, the former RB Salzburg player takes the ball between the lines, characteristically. Driving forward, Keita is fouled by both David Luiz and Granit Xhaka — becoming the meat in a sandwich of inept defending — and from the subsequent advantage Mohamed Salah initiates the move which ends up with Sadio Mane scoring.
Liverpool suffocated Arsenal with their claustrophobic and choreographed press and counter-press. Keita was key to this, almost forming a front four with Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino as the Gunners attempted — almost always unsuccessfully — to play out from the back.
With question marks over the future of Georginio Wijnaldum still lingering, then Keita could well be being groomed to replace the Dutchman in midfield.
With no contract extension appearing to be on the horizon, there is an expectation that Wijnaldum — like Emre Can before him — could wind his deal down and depart on a free in the next summer window.
A key player in the squad, the 29-year-old would need replacing but Keita could be an ideal player to step up to the role.
Previous to joining Liverpool, Wijnaldum — who signed for the club in the summer of 2016 from relegated Newcastle United — was an energetic, attacking midfielder whose onus was mostly on influencing the game in an attacking manner.
After working with Jurgen Klopp, however, the Dutch international was gradually repurposed into a positionally and tactically savvy midfield general and Keita — judging from his performances in the recent past — could follow the same route.
With the full-backs, Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson, providing much of the creative spark the Reds’ midfielders, first and foremost, have to provide defensive cover and discipline.
Keita — as well as offering an on the ball technical prowess that is the envy of many — can offer this selfless level of protection and solidity and make himself indispensable to Klopp.
Keep this level of form up and five start’s in a row will be standard fare for the Guinean.