News Live Scores

How Liverpool can get the best out of struggling £53m signing Naby Keita

09:00 GMT 16/01/2019
Naby Keita Liverpool 2018-19
The summer signing has yet to score or create a goal for the Reds, but Jurgen Klopp has faith in his ability to reach his potential at Anfield

In a city steeped in music, Liverpool assistant coach Peter Krawietz knew the right metaphor to use when describing his role in Jurgen Klopp's backroom.

“We are like a music band, with our own instrument,” Krawietz told the Telegraph in 2016. “Jurgen is the band leader, and others are behind him playing the bass guitar or drum. I’m not sure which instrument is mine!”

Since arriving at Anfield, Klopp has had plenty of similes thrown at his side by the media, who (prior to Philippe Coutinho's transfer to Barcelona) crowned their attackers the 'Fab Four' after Liverpool's most famous export, The Beatles. The German has also ushered in a new era of hits for the club, with the Mohamed Salah-tribute chant 'Allez Allez Allez' now as common on the terraces as long-time favourite 'You'll Never Walk Alone.'

The most important thing for band leader Klopp is that his players are all singing from the same hymn sheet. The methodical manager ensures this by making sure every player knows their role at the club - something Krawietz spent months doing with Fabinho, showing him videos and using analytics to make sure he understood exactly what was needed from him.

Fabinho, like Roberto Firmino before him, took time to adjust to playing in the Premier League, playing for Liverpool, playing for Klopp. The former Borussia Dortmund boss is aware that summer signing Naby Keita will also take time to adjust to his new surroundings following a £53 million ($70m) move from RB Leipzig.

"That is sometimes how it is," Klopp told reporters. "I spoke to him. Everything is fine. I am completely happy with him. Could he be a bit more confident in the games? Yes. Is he exactly the player in his best time at Leipzig? No, but he is still adapting - that is how it is."

Keita's development at Anfield has also been hindered by injury, with muscular problems seeing him sidelined for four games immediately after being handed a start against Manchester City.

"It was kind of a little setback but he is a fantastic player and I am really happy to have him here. I am really looking forward to our common future," Klopp responded after Keita spent three games on the bench during the Christmas period.

"You see every day, wow, there is so much to come and so much influence he can have on each game. That's all good. There was no reason - just because other boys were in good shape as well. It was a bit about positioning and system - that is how football decisions are. There is really no doubt about the boy, he is an outstanding player."

Fans have yet to see the midfielder who was a revelation in the Bundesliga, where he was named in the team of the season after a debut campaign at age 21. Liverpool decided to pay his release clause before his second season with Leipzig, allowing him to develop for another year in Germany before moving to the Premier League.

His second season was not quite as impressive as his first, but Keita was still a difference-maker for Leipzig domestically and in Europe, where he helped the team to the Europa League quarter-finals and was named in the squad of the season.

He was handed the No. 8 jersey when he arrived at Liverpool, but has not been operating in the role once occupied by club legend Steven Gerrard. Instead, Klopp has played him on the left of midfield as he adapts to the Premier League and to the way the Reds play.

Liverpool's approach is much different to Leipzig's. In Germany, he played through the middle in Ralph Hasenhuttl's 4-2-2-2 and could use his speed, strength and technical ability to create chances and drive forward in their fast, direct, counter-attacking style. Liverpool, on the other hand, dominate possession, so Keita has to be more patient when he is on the ball and does not have the same freedom to chase without the ball for fear of being caught out of position.

As a result, he is making a lot more backwards or sideways passes than he did at Leipzig. There, getting the ball forward quickly was the primary aim, but Liverpool are more patient and keep possession until they can find an opening. This means Keita's main abilities are not yet being utilised fully. 

However, it is a means to an end. Keita may not be Liverpool's number eight on the pitch yet, but he is learning the way the team play and how to adapt to certain situations. Klopp integrated Mario Gotze in a similar fashion at Borussia Dortmund, giving him experience on the side of midfield before moving to a freer role through the middle.

Once Keita fully understands the tactical approach and has the discipline to follow Klopp's instructions closely, he will have the opportunity to show what he can do more centrally. He has shown already that he has the ability to keep play ticking over in midfield, win the ball back and help Liverpool retain possession. However, he currently is playing within himself as he adjusts to what Klopp expects from him.

“It’s never about the system, it’s all about the players," Klopp told Premier League Productions . “My job is to bring the players into the best position where they can help the team most with the things they can do.

“If I can do it with the system, I do it, but it’s not that we go through the week and be very creative with things like that because, in the end, the players need to play."

At the moment, Keita is still not in tune with the rest of the band, but with a bit more game time, more experience and some more rehearsal in the video room, Liverpool's band leader will have him playing exactly the notes he wants.