Observations: Against Benfica, the real Naby Keita stood up
In a recent interview, Naby Keita said ‘I don’t believe we’ve seen the real Naby Keita just yet. I’ve had quite a few injuries & I’m trying to get back to full form & fitness. Recently I’ve felt 100%. It’s my aim to try and establish myself and be seen in the world of football either this season or the next.’ Well Naby lad, if you wanted to be seen, then tonight you did everything right to make it happen. It was a titanic performance from the Guinian, as he played alongside Thiago and Fabinho for the first time. Strong in the tackle, direct going forward, safe in possession and always running, running, running. He had 4 shots in the first 20 minutes, and his pass to Diaz set up the crucial third goal.
That goal was a perfect demonstration of why Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool recruitment team were so excited by Keita at RB Liepzig. The Reds gave the ball away, and Keita was quick to counterpress, immediately intercepting the first pass Benfica made after winning the ball. From there, he drove forward, carrying the ball up the centre of the pitch, past the midfield line and getting the defence backpedalling. Next, he looked to play a pass to Diaz, albeit intending to play it into his feet, rather than the through ball it ended up being, owing to a deflection. But those breaks are the reward you get for making the right decisions, trying the right ideas. It’s clear that Keita is playing with confidence.
Elsewhere, it was a mostly dominant performance from Liverpool. However, the team has developed a frustrating habit in the Champions League of having a 15 minute period of madness in every game, seemingly for no reason. After a brilliant first half, a litany of individual errors allowed Benfica back into the game. It wasn’t just the goal, although that was certainly the most obvious. Suddenly passes were being played into nowhere and players were allowing themselves to be funnelled into cul-de-sacs. The three subs on 60 minutes, likely pre-planned for rotation purposes, came at a convenient time, as Benfica didn’t have a single shot past the 60th minute. If the Reds want to win this competition, they will need to cut out these periods and maintain concentration levels throughout the full 90 minutes.
After Joe Gomez put in a very impressive performance against Watford, Trent Alexander-Arnold proved why he isn’t just your usual great attacking full back. Some of the passes he made in this match were simply impossible for any other right-back in world football to replicate, with the pick of the bunch being the gorgeous, 50 yard aerial through ball to Diaz for Mane’s goal. And he was aided by some fantastic movement by all 5 of the forwards that played, with constant lateral and vertical shifting pulling Benfica’s defenders out of position, and the resultant space constantly exploited by aggressive and relentless runs off the ball. The Portuguese club simply couldn’t cope.
Whilst the goal conceded added a black mark to the night’s proceedings, this was still a very good result for the Reds, and they can now simply control the game at Anfield. Without wanting to tempt fate, Liverpool are overwhelming favourites to make it into the semi finals. This puts Jurgen Klopp in the enviable position of being able to prime his squad’s rotation to go full pelt in the two massive fixtures against Manchester City. Destiny awaits.