Naby Keita is a hot topic among Liverpool supporters after, what some are calling, his breakout performance against Bournemouth. The internet is buzzing with praise for him, and hailing the Bournemouth showing as his best for the Reds. While Keita’s stock is rising, before the Bournemouth game Keita was seen as a disappointment by some, and many fans were losing patience. It’s not hard to see why Keita was beginning to be written off if you look at his stats for the season.
Keita has nineteen Premier League appearances,seven from the bench. He has no goals, and one assist. Think the unfortunate stats stop there, think again. Keita has been shooting, despite the lack of goals. Although he shoots about once per appearance, he only hits the target 38% of the time. “But he’s a creative midfielder.” Keita has the one assist, but that’s nothing special. He has only created a single big chance, has not completed any of the crosses he has attempted, and has only completed 6 through balls. All of this tells a story of the player struggling to click in our offense. Surely the tenacious Naby Keita’s defensive record will be more encouraging?
Yes and no. Keita has made 23 tackles, with a success rate of 35%. He has blocked 7 shots and made 8 interceptions, some solid contributions. The stat that stands out to me is Recoveries. Keita currently has 89 on the season. This means Keita recovers balls lost by the opponent almost 5 times per match. He isn’t afraid of running down loose balls, and regains possession for us quite often. He has also made no errors leading to goal. On the Defensive side of the ball, Keita has been decent. Stats here show an attack-minded player who chases down balls and does more than what you might expect for a number 10. Except, Keita isn’t a number 10, and he isn’t producing offensively.
The story the numbers tell does not add up to the player that Liverpool fans waited so long for. Let’s step away from the numbers and focus on my observations. My biggest problem with Keita is that he has a tendency to go missing for spells of the match. You can almost see the doubt on his face when he starts playing short, side-to-side balls, and gives it right back to the man who passed it to him.This is one of the reasons why his pass accuracy is so high most of the time. I’m not sure whether he is unsure of what to do with the ball when we are in possession against deep-sitting teams, or he lacks the confidence to make riskier passes in these slower matches. Despite this, and the somewhat deceptive stats, I believe Naby Keita will have a bright future at Liverpool, and here’s why.
Keita is improving. His confidence is growing and the quality of his play has certainly improved from the early stages of the season. While he hasn’t been racking up assists or key passes, he has played some really incredible balls this season. I don’t even believe his passing is his best quality. When Keita is running with the ball at his feet towards the opposition, he has shown glimpses of how well he can drive at a defense and take players on. When he doesn’t have time to think, and has to scramble to stay in possession, Keita can be downright scary. And although we have not seen the same ruthlessness and hunger as he showed at Leipzig, you can tell Naby does not take kindly to losing the ball. He has a bit of a mean streak, and that’s exactly what we need in our midfield. On top of all that, he is still improving every match. He isn’t playing as well as he did at Leipzig, and he wasn’t at his full potential there. Thinking about the Naby Keita we could see by the end of this season is an exciting prospect. As we have seen in the past, players take time to get in sync with Klopp’s system, but once they click, they become integral parts of the team, like Robbo and Fabinho. Naby Keita is going to have an important role to play if we are going to win the Premier League and challenge in the Champions League this season. Stats show a player who has failed to live up to the hype, but football is more than numbers.