Liverpool

Who Makes Way For Keïta In The Liverpool Midfield?

 • by Sam McGuire
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Liverpool’s summer long pursuit of Naby Keïta came to a satisfactory end. He won’t be plying his trade at Anfield this season but there’s a deal in place which sees him move to the club next summer.

The Reds paid a premium on top of his £45million release clause to ensure he ended up on Merseyside amid interest from Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Barcelona.

Liverpool will belatedly get Jürgen Klopp’s top summer transfer target, RB Leipzig get the dynamic box-to-box midfielder for another season and Keïta gets all-important experience playing in the Champions League.

It’s a good deal for all parties involved. Liverpool have a new No.8 and have broken their transfer record for a second time this summer.


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Fans now have an entire season to let their imaginations run wild. How will Keïta fit in at Anfield? Is he worth the fuss? Who will he replace?

And it’s the latter question which is probably the most important one. Liverpool have an abundance of midfielders at their disposal. Depth is good but the team will need to know their strongest XI.

Keïta will inevitably need a bedding in period but after that it’s safe to assume he’d be considered an automatic starter for Klopp once he’s fully settled. So what does his arrival mean for the current crop of midfielders?

Who could Keïta replace?

The RB Leipzig man is arguably the most complete midfielder in the world right now, despite his young age. The 22-year-old can play a number of positions and this is why his arrival casts doubt over the future of the midfielders currently starting for the Reds.

When playing for Red Bull Salzburg, Keïta played as the defensive midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 but was then deployed as the more attack-minded of the two in the middle third. He also played on the left of the two behind the strikers.

These experiences playing in the different roles helped mould him into the player he is today and it’s why Gini Wijnaldum, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana should all be worried.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Gini Wijnaldum celebrate in Liverpool's new kit

Gini Wijnaldum

Wijnaldum, like a number of Liverpool players, is a divisive character in the squad. His debut season at Anfield was impressive, however, his form away from home wasn’t.

He was given the nickname ‘ghost’. It was initially because everything he did went under the radar. He kept things ticking over and popped up with vital goals and assists. But as the season progressed, the nickname stuck because he kept on disappearing.

His start to the 2017/18 season has mirrored this. At home he looks incredible, and he put in eye-catching performances against Hoffenheim and Arsenal, but away from Anfield he’s been somewhat of a passenger.

If he continues to be consistently inconsistent then Keïta could come in and replace him as the link man in midfield.

Wijnaldum was involved in the same amount of goals as the RB Leipzig man (15) but averaged just 2.0 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes as opposed to Keïta’s 5.2. Wijnaldum also completed fewer key passes (1.2 to 1.3) and less than half as many dribbles (1.2 to 2.7).

Keïta would, in theory, be Wijnaldum on steroids. But would his skills not be better utilised in a more advanced role?

Emre Can

Can has started the season like a man possessed. In Liverpool’s two biggest matches of season, albeit they’re only five games into the new campaign, he’s arguably been the Man of the Match.

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He scored twice against Hoffenheim during the club’s 4-2 win at Anfield and followed that up with an imposing performance against Arsenal in the 4-0 rout.

Still only 23-years-old, he’s slowly but surely developing into the player many had hoped he would become.

However, he’s still yet to put pen to paper on his new contract and his current deal expires next summer. Juventus are thought to be keen and Bayern Munich are interested in bringing him back to the Allianz Arena.

The Reds want to keep him at Anfield but come January he’s free to sign a pre-contract elsewhere.

If he continues on in this rich vein of form there will be an Emre-shaped hole in the midfield that will need filling. Perhaps Keïta is the man to do that?

He’s been used in a variety of roles by Klopp and the incoming RB Leipzig man is just as versatile.

Jordan Henderson

Henderson is still the captain of Liverpool and relegating him to the bench doesn’t seem like a Klopp move. However, if he continues to be plagued by injuries for a third consecutive season, the German manager may be forced to act.

Keïta isn’t a like-for-like replacement, and using him as the deepest midfielder would be a waste, Klopp may tweak the dynamic. The former Borussia Dortmund manager has used Wijnaldum and Can as the deepest midfielder in the past and could do so again.

With one of those in Henderson’s role it frees up one of the box-to-box positions for Keïta to call home.

Adam Lallana

Could Lallana be a victim of Keïta’s arrival? He started the 2016/17 season in the form of his career playing in a deeper role but he was afforded the luxury of almost playing as a number 10 when Liverpool went forward.

However, his early season form didn’t last and neither did Liverpool’s. Injuries disrupted his season and he’s already ruled out until November this time around.

He turns 30 at the end of this current season and if niggles continue to rule him out for a run of games here and there it’s hard to see him starting next season. He may become a luxury player for the Reds.

Keïta could replace him as the more attack-minded box-to-box midfielder. A position he’d thrive in. He’s a goal threat and he’s able to break the defensive lines both with his passing and with his dribbling ability.

Klopp has a selection headache, but it’s an enviable one.

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