Naby Keita is the latest player to make a big-money move from Bundesliga to the Premier League, but can he find success in the English top flight?
Liverpool have officially unveiled the signing of Naby Keita, who checked into Melwood training ground earlier this week. The highly-rated midfielder was signed in for a whopping fee of €60m from RB Leipzig and fans will expect he can instantly strengthen Liverpool in the upcoming season.
Guinea international Keita is accredited as one of the best midfielders in Europe and has the quality to boost any club in the world, according to Austrian manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. However, over the years, a lot of players have failed to make the cut in the English Premier League after making a big-money move from Bundesliga.
Therefore, the question stands as to whether or not he will be able to prove his credentials in arguably the most competitive league in the world.
Following his move from RB Salzburg in 2016, Keita has enjoyed two impressive seasons in the German top flight. In his debut season, in particular, the Guinean international flourished under the leadership of Ralph Hasenhuttl, that has seen him transform into one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga.
The temerity of Naby Keita
Keita has been an important part of Leipzig’s success under Hasenhuttl. The fact that the former Ingolstadt trainer has managed to guide RB Leipzig to becoming a Bundesliga powerhouse is hardly surprising. But how fast the Austrian coach has been able to utilize Keita to his full potential is truly extraordinary.
A complete package in midfield, Naby Keita is basically a number six, a number eight and a number ten at the same time. He can influence the final third with his clever movements and extraordinary vision but at the same time, he is also proficient when it comes to defensive stances.
In midfield, Keita mostly operates in a double pivot system alongside Diego Demme, who sits as the bottom in the Leipzig midfield. While Demme has surprisingly emerged as a Keita’s side-kick in the central position, Hasenhuttl’s style of play mostly focuses on Keita’s ability to press aggressively in order to win the ball and to start quick counter attacks. Although Leipzig have experienced a slight alteration in their gameplan last season, as most of the Bundesliga teams have begun to offer Die Roten-Bullen the possession of the ball.
Keita is an excellent operator in the final third and is blessed with such incredible ball-carrying abilities that only a handful of players could muster. He is fast, he is sharp and most importantly, he is lucid in the attacking half, thus, making him a deadly midfield component for the opposition defences.
Even though Naby Keita experienced a rather disappointing season by his lofty standards, his numbers are quite impressive.
Last season, Keita made the second most number of tackles (65) in the team along with 36 interceptions (3rd highest). He also mustered 1.6 shots per game, which is quite good for a central midfielder. Elsewhere, Keita completed 67 dribbles (more than two per game and second best in the team), which is, once again, an astounding record for a midfielder.
In addition, his 43 key passes have been crucial as RB Leipzig lacked the creative presence of Emil Forsberg for the most part of last season.
However, that being said, his rash tackling has been a subject of some harsh criticism last season when he received as many as seven yellow cards and two red cards (one indirect). He was suspended for five games due to disciplinary reasons.
How will he fit into Liverpool?
Although it’s very hard to predict whether he will prove to be a success in the Premier League, let us determine the best way Liverpool can utilise him next season.
It’s probably safe to admit that Naby Keita will likely experience a huge change as he makes the transition from Bundesliga to the Premier League. Thankfully for the Liverpool fans though, the move makes much sense in a tactical perspective as head coach Jurgen Klopp adheres to the similar philosophy followed by Leipzig mastermind Ralph Hasenhuttl.
The former Borussia Dortmund coach has been inspirational for Liverpool, especially in the past couple of seasons but has been hugely criticized for the lack of solidity in the back-four. However, it’s the midfield where the main problems originate.
Liverpool have used the likes of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield positions but lack the presence of a catalyst in midfield following the departure of Philipe Coutinho. The Brazilian international was a crucial part in Liverpool’s creativity in the final third but his absence has left the Reds vying for someone who can fill his shoes and the Guinenan could be a perfect man to do so.
Liverpool can be rest assured that Keita is a worthy addition to the squad considering the fact that Klopp is not giving up on the idea of quick counter-pressing. As evident from his performances at Leipzig, Keita can be an excellent presser of the ball in the midfield territory while his ball-carrying abilities, especially in half-spaces, will hand Liverpool an advantage in attacking stances.
Probable lineup after the addition of Keita and Fabinho
Liverpool squad have been shaping up quite nicely following the addition of two of the most highly rated midfielders in Fabinho and Naby Keita. This would likely force Klopp to shift into his customary 4-2-3-1 formation, which he used for the most part of his tenure with Borussia Dortmund.
Virgil Van Dijk has been a crucial signing for the Reds and will be tasked the responsibility of marshalling the defence alongside Dejan Lovren while Trent-Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson have also done well and will likely retain their place in the starting eleven next season.
Newest additions Fabinho and Keita will form the double pivot midfield. While we have talked a lot of Keita in this article and what he can bring to the table for Liverpool, former Monaco starlet Fabinho is also an exciting addition to the team, who is capable of sitting in as a hub in the midfield.
In attack, the famous trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane had terrorized defences last season and will be keen on replicating their form next season. Since Liverpool are yet to sign an attacking midfielder this summer, we can assume Adam Lallana will be the one to lead Liverpool’s creative department although the focus will likely remain on Naby Keita to provide the same.
Simply put, Naby Keita has been a stunning signing for Liverpool and will play a very important role as Liverpool look to make an impression next season. The 23-year-old is the perfect catalyst, who can amplify Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing style of play in the middle third, much like what Ilkay Gundogan used to do, during his time with Borussia Dortmund. If the German mastermind can manage to bring out the best of Naby Keita, Liverpool may even pose a strong threat for the title next season.