The possibility of strengthening the starting 11 at Liverpool would be a difficult task – even with an endless pot of money – but slightly changing the tactical makeup of the midfielder could be an evolution of the game for Klopp’s side.
One player who could be at the center of this is Naby Keita.
Keita’s arrival in the summer of 2018 came with enthusiasm as to what he could bring to the Liverpool midfielder. He had prospered for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga and a transfer fee of £ 52.75million was a testament to the quality of Klopp and co. Think of him.
It would be fair to say that the career of the 25-year-old Anfield has yet to reach the heights he would have liked. Minor injury issues hampered Keita’s development under Klopp with a midfield trio of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum becoming the proven and reliable combination.
For Keita, finding a way to access Klopp’s midfielder hinges on the fact that he can provide the defensive safety of other team members as well as an added element of creativity. The latter is perhaps the most obvious point in the argument that the Guinea international can become a top starter, but the former is just as important.
Having a midfielder who can provide a platform for the full-backs to advance and support the top three has been vital for Klopp’s system. Partly for this reason he rarely starts Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the same starting 11, two players who tend to take risks in possession to perform decisive action.
This is perhaps best illustrated by Keita’s impressive finish against Chelsea, which saw him score from outside the zone. We rarely see Wijnaldum or Henderson choosing to shoot and instead they hold onto the ball in favor of looking for scoring teammates.
Keita’s presence in midfield changes the way they can attack teams and maybe that’s something Klopp is looking to do more often next season. Since the start of last season, the Liverpool midfielder has been one of the best in the world to maintain possession and transfer it to more prolific creators.
The function of the midfielder has been to put pressure on the opposition, prevent counterattacks and provide a solid base for others to advance.
At Keita, Klopp has a creative attacking midfielder who has the pressing qualities to play in his system as well as additional elements that could lead to a change of edge.
Assisted creation is, in itself, an erroneous measure of creativity as it is highly dependent on the performance of the shooter. Therefore, the cards below begin to show how Keita has been more of a progressive threat than the role played by Wijnaldum.
Keita’s tendency to drift more to the left in possession shows how he operates in areas similar to Wijnaldum, although the direction of his passage in areas further forward illustrates his intention for additional attack.
This is further illustrated by the contrast in how the two players score in terms of passing stats. Keita has recorded 1.12 assists per 90 minutes this season, compared to just 0.4 for Wijnaldum. Such a difference in the supply of teammates in attacking zones shows how the 25-year-old would bring a more creative threat in the future.
Take our LFC end of season survey here
There are, of course, reservations to the argument that Keita should be a guaranteed starter. The first of these is that Klopp’s trusted midfield trio have been a crucial part of success over the past two seasons and a change that could be an oversight of their true importance to the team.
Additionally, Keita’s tendency to take risk in possession is a case of risk versus reward. He might be able to unlock a low-block defense, but it’s possible the Reds will lose the ball more often looking for that pass.
Liverpool FC highlights
Despite these question marks, Keita’s performance after the lockdown showed several reasons why the midfielder may be the extra spark for Liverpool midfielder going forward.
In a transfer window that will be ruled by rumors and unfounded gossip, Keita’s emergence as a premier starter could serve the Reds better than any transfer company.
Let’s not forget that he played just over 800 league minutes throughout the 2019/20 campaign and will be eager to make his way into Klopp from 9/11.
* All statistics via Wyscout