After several weeks in whcih Liverpool had seemed curiously off, their normally effervescent attacking play dampened by the sudden hesitance of their frontline and sodden, windy weather conditions, the Reds have bounced back in some style.
Their 4-2 victory over Burnley was the start of a run of eight consecutive victories, in which Bayern Munich and FC Porto were eliminated in the Champions League, and Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea were defeated in the league.
Jurgen Klopp’s percussive punk-rockers have served a reminder as to all their enduring qualities, and the exhilaration with which they can defeat teams.
One of the underlying subplots of Liverpool's upturn as been the increased prominence of Naby Keita.
Amidst a ripple of criticism following the Guinea international’s difficulties adapting to life on Merseyside, the dynamic midfielder repaid Klopp’s faith with goals against Southampton and in the first leg against FC Porto.
Keita was an unused substitute against the Portuguese heavyweights in midweek, as Liverpool won 4-1 to progress to the UCL semi-finals.
Is there a case to be made that Klopp should bring Keita back into the team for the Cardiff City game on Sunday—another potentially key stepping stone en route to the title—or should he stick with the team that cruised past Porto?
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it; it is a sentiment rooted in security, in aversion to risk. However, as the Reds turn up in Wales, there is a very good argument for them to make a tweak or two specifically for the occasion.
22 duels for Naby Keita vs Porto.— Alex Mansfield (@el_mansfield) April 10, 2019
24 duels for Fabinho vs Red Star in the group stage.
Insane numbers in terms of sheer engagement in the middle of the park, made even more absurd by how brilliant they both are technically. Not one, but two rare breeds LFC have in midfield. pic.twitter.com/yOFUe1Xt5W
That tweak might well involve letting Keita run riot.
First of all, there is the simple reality of what Keita can bring to the table, as well as that of motivation.
It’s perhaps telling that the West African’s best performances in a Liverpool shirt came after the Burnley match, when fit-again Adam Lallana was selected ahead of him.
Klopp’s explanation for his selection decision—which was justified by a superb performance by Lallana—could have represented a gauntlet being thrown down in the direction of his €60 million midfielder.
“If you have five sessions a week, everybody can show up,” Klopp told BT Sport, “and Adam was exceptional during the week.”
The inference—of course—is that Keita was not exceptional.
The Guinea international has largely struggled to make an impact since his move to Liverpool in the summer.
Some of that is to do with being held in reserve, as Klopp’s preference is to integrate new signings slowly.
However, and also perhaps as a result, when he has played, he has tended to be less influential than might have been expected, given all the anticipation that greeted his arrival.
Before netting against Southampton, the sum of his measurable impact was one assist, but perhaps the best measure of just how ineffectual he had been could be seen in his disciplinary record.
Having arrived with a reputation for playing slightly on the edge, he has only been booked twice in all competitions this season.
For context, over the last two seasons at RB Leipzig, Keita was booked 16 times and sent off once.
The key may well lie in rekindling the visceral aggression that seems to get the 24-year-old going, and after leaving Keita out against Porto, Klopp may well hope that it’s a frustrated midfield dynamo who takes to the field against Cardiff on Sunday.
Against Southampton, and it the first leg against Porto, Keita finally demonstrated the qualities that prompted Liverpool fans to salivate at the prospect of his arrival on Merseyside.
In the first leg of the quarter-final, created two goalscoring opportunities, boasted a pass-success rate of 85.9 percent, completed three successful take-ons and won a whopping eight tackles.
Having Naby Keita in this type of form at this crucial stage could prove to be season defining. He’s linking up with Salah so well here.— Matt (@FalseFirmino) April 9, 2019
According to Squawka, Keita’s eight tackles won against Porto that evening was the most by any player in a UCL knockout game this term.
In principle, the Guinea international has both the technical qualities and the defensive attributes to play a decisive role in the run-in, as the Reds look to clinch a first title in 19 years.
Could a shackles-off Keita be a key figure for Liverpool as they look to overcome their latest hurdle, Cardiff.