Keita’s Liverpool career finally taking off as Reds put Porto to sword

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The big-money signing from Leipzig has failed to show his best form for much of the season but he now has two goals in as many games

He’s arrived!

It’s taken Naby Keita a while to find his feet at Liverpool, but these were the kind of nights he was bought for.

And as the Reds eased one foot into the Champions League semi-finals, Anfield was treated to its first real masterclass from its Guinean star.

Porto, thrashed last season, were put to the sword once more here. Sergio Conceicao hoped his team had learned the lessons of their round of 16 hammering last February, but the Portuguese champions had no answer to Liverpool’s superior energy, quality and fitness. It wasn't as conclusive as last year, but it will be hard for Porto to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the second leg, you feel.

"A really, really good result," Jurgen Klopp called it. "I would have bought it before the game and I will take it now!"

Keita, frustrated in recent weeks, had taken a huge step forward with a promising performance – and a first Liverpool goal – at Southampton last Friday, and here he picked up where he had left off in both regards.

His goal, deflected into the top corner after just five minutes, settled any early nerves. His overall display - vibrant, dynamic, aggressive and creative - had the Kop purring.

This was what they were promised when Klopp splashed out more than £50 million to bring Keita from RB Leipzig. Klopp believed he was signing the Bundesliga’s brightest midfield talent, a player who could turn a good side into a trophy-winning one. Progress has been slower than anticipated, but the evidence of the past week is encouraging indeed for Liverpudlians.

The goals, naturally, will steal the attention, but Keita at his best will offer so much more. Here, the 24-year-old showcased his full range. Anfield liked what it saw.

There was the bite, with no player making more tackles in the game, or attempting as many duels. There was the positional play – only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho regained possession more often. Keita, more often than not, was in the right place to close down angles, to deny space, to win the ball.

Naby Keita, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Liverpool vs Porto, UCL 2018-19

And when he had it, the confidence flowed. "In some games he had to fight his way into them," Klopp said. "Here he was there from the start."

He got some luck with his goal, his 16-yard strike wrong-footing Iker Casillas after a heavy deflection off Oliver Torres, but the sight of a Liverpool midfielder there, on the edge of the box to get a shot away, was a welcome one. Keita, we know, has an eye for goal, and his presence should give Klopp’s side an extra dimension.

Liverpool’s midfield has been a bone of contention this season, with some supporters bemoaning its lack of flair and others, Klopp included, appreciating its solidity and reliability.

But suddenly, with Keita roaming and with Jordan Henderson re-emerging as a high-energy No.8, it came alive. Gini Wijnaldum, a Klopp staple in big European games, was left out here but Liverpool looked no poorer for the Dutchman’s absence.

Henderson, who had helped turn the game off the bench at Southampton, was equally influential from the start against Porto. It’s not often that the captain’s name is sung at Anfield, but it boomed out here. This was a performance of real class from the England international.

It was his pass, slid perfectly in behind Moussa Marega, which allowed Alexander-Arnold to put Liverpool’s second goal on a plate for Roberto Firmino, 26 minutes in. Soon after, his powerful, purposeful forward run produced another chance for Firmino, which the Brazilian could not take.

How refreshing to see Henderson playing with such confidence. To see him as the furthest man forward, plucking an Alexander-Arnold ping out of the sky and nonchalantly releasing Firmino with his next touch. He doesn’t get universal appreciation, but nobody would doubt his contribution here.

"He likes the position obviously," smiled Klopp. "It was my fault that for one-and-a-half years he played as a No.6. Sorry for that!"

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Liverpool will hope this result is enough to see them through to the last four. They offered up some chances, with Marega particularly wasteful, but the clean sheet they secured was key. They will back themselves to score over in Portugal next week. And when they do, Porto will need four to progress.

As for Keita, he should bounce into this weekend’s Premier League game with Chelsea. He’s had to wait for his chance to shine, but here, on the big stage, he delivered for Liverpool.

He will hope there is much more to come.

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