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Naby Keita: Is there any sign of improvement?

4:30 AM GMT+4 21/02/2019
Naby Keita Liverpool
The Guinea midfielder is in danger of being a high-profile big-money flop at Liverpool
While so much as gone right for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool so far this season, the signing of Naby Keita is yet to work out.

The Guinea international was signed from RasenBallsport Leipzig for £52.5 million amidst much fanfare, with the deal originally announced in August 2017.

While the Reds were made to wait for his arrival after securing his signature—reportedly ahead of various other European heavyweights—Keita is yet to demonstrate the kind of form he showed during Leipzig’s meteoric rise.

Indeed, it wouldn’t be a stretch to argue that the midfielder was among the key protagonists in the Bundesliga gate-crashes superb rise to prominence.

He established himself as an immense force—both offensively and defensively—in Germany, memorably making 15 decisive contributions in his first campaign in the Bundesliga.

Those numbers dipped to 11 last term—six goals and five assists—but still, few could have expected that Keita’s headline output would have diminished so notably in England.

After 23 Liverpool outings, Keita has only registered one assist—in the 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace—and is yet to score.

While he certainly will have required some time to adapt to the top flight, a player who could once have been considered a bargain, is now in danger of beginning to look like an expensive flop.

At least his teammates believe that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Naby Keita | 2018-19 Premier League stats

“Everybody can see how good Naby is as a footballer,” Reds skipper Jordan Henderson told journalists earlier this week, “but as I know myself coming to Liverpool, it's such a huge club and especially changing to the Premier League, it's tough.

"It takes time to adapt.”

To date, Keita has made 19 appearances in the top flight, with a further four coming in the Champions League.

He’s struggled to establish himself as an undisputed starter at Anfield, with nine of his 23 showings to date coming from the bench.

“He has done really well in certain games,” Henderson added. “I can see him getting used to the way we play, and the manager is helping him improve.

“I can definitely see the potential coming out of him,” he concluded, “but it takes time to feel right at home.

“Over the last couple of games you can see the quality he gives the team and how good he is.”

Henderson’s words came before Liverpool’s midweek draw with Bayern Munich, opponents against whom Keita has endured mixed fortunes in the past.

Memorably, he netted in a 2-1 victory for Leipzig against Bayern in March 2018—the last time he’d played against them—but was also part of the team that was thumped 5-4 at home by the domestic giants in one of the games of the 2016-17 Bundesliga season.

Liverpool’s midweek Champions League Last 16 showdown with Bayern was an ideal opportunity for Keita to build on his encouraging showing against Bournemouth at the weekend, and to reaffirm his qualities in a blockbuster clash.

Former England striker Dion Dublin, speaking on BBC Sport, was just one observer impressed by the West African’s performance in the 0-0 draw.

"I think Naby Keita has done well tonight,” the former Coventry City man began. "He's had lots of the ball and tried to create chances."

Certainly, the midfielder’s movement, application and—largely—use of the ball suggested that he is finally growing into life as a Liverpool player.

However, his decision-making still leaves a lot to be desired, while he was wasteful with his shooting—none of his three efforts hit the target.

Twice, he was guilty of poor touches, and lost the ball on two occasions.

It was far from a perfect outing, but there was at least evidence that, now fit, Keita’s confidence is returning and he’s finding his feet as a Liverpool player.

Still, there’s the marvellous control with his left foot, the crunching tackles and the ability to carry the ball past opponents.

Critically, against Bayern, Keita looked like he was keen to take more responsibility and assert himself more on proceedings.

Coming from Leipzig to Liverpool was always going to be a massive leap, but Keita appears on the cusp of demonstrating the quality he showed—seemingly so easily—in Germany.

Could Sunday’s derby clash against Manchester United be the occasion when the 50-million man finally ‘arrives’ in English football?