Since sealing his move to Liverpool, Naby Keita has been sent off three times in 13 games for club and country. Such tenacity has been missing at Anfield.
Keita will join the Reds next summer after the two clubs agreed a £55 million deal, with Jurgen Klopp eager to get the deal done by any means necessary.
The 22-year-old has remained at the Red Bull Arena for the 2017/18 campaign, and despite rumblings of discontent over the summer, has retained his commitment to the cause.
This has, however, seen an overzealous edge creep into Keita’s game, with the Guinean already dismissed on three occasions this season.
While Mane connected with City goalkeeper Ederson stretching for a loose ball on the charge, Keita’s boot struck the face of Borussia Monchengladbach’s Christoph Kramer in the middle of the park.
Keita sat out of three Bundesliga games as a result, playing 59 minutes in Leipzig’s 2-0 loss to Besiktas in the Champions League in between, before joining Guinea for international duty.
There, he received his marching orders in a turbulent 4-1 loss to Tunisia, with his flailing arm striking Mohamed Amine Ben Amor in the closing stages, drawing another straight red.
And most recently, Keita was sent off in Leipzig’s DFB-Pokal loss to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, picking up yellow cards either side of half-time, with his second for dragging back Robert Lewandowski.
Three red cards over the space of seven games; Keita’s discipline should certainly come into question.
Prior to this season, Keita had only been sent off once in his professional career, that coming for two bookable offences when playing for FC Istres in Ligue 2 back in 2014.
Between making his debut for Istres and agreeing to join Liverpool, Keita picked up 25 yellow cards in 157 games, for club and country, averaging one every 6.28 outings.
This season, this has risen to one every 1.86 games, and a red card every 4.3.
Whether this is a symptom of pent-up frustration after setting his sights on a switch to Anfield last summer, or merely an overenthusiastic approach in his final season for Leipzig, it could be considered an issue.
But to spin a positive on Keita’s aggressive approach this term, his imminent arrival on Merseyside will certainly provide Klopp’s midfield with some much-needed tenacity.
The deal to sign Keita next summer coincided frustratingly with a major injury blow for Adam Lallana, with the midfielder sidelined until mid-November.
Klopp has previously described Lallana as his “hunter,” and without the 28-year-old the Reds have certainly lacked aggression in midfield:
(Statistics based on league output only.)
Their averages in terms of tackles and interceptions pale in comparison to Keita, who has made more than five times the amount tackles per 90 minutes than Wijnaldum.
He has averaged more interceptions per 90 than all three of Klopp’s first-choice midfielders combined.
While their roles vary, with Keita a dynamic, box-to-box option, this comparison is stark—particularly concerning Wijnaldum, whose duty is arguably the most similar.
The Reds’ defence has come under considerable criticism throughout the campaign so far, but the lack of protection from a front-footed midfield should also be highlighted.
Adding Keita to his ranks will certainly aid that, and it should come as no surprise that, Klopp will reportedly look to push through an early deal in January.
Not since the days of Javier Mascherano have Liverpool been able to call upon a snarling, tough-tackling midfielder of this ilk, and only one genuine defensive midfielder has been signed this decade—that being Christian Poulsen.
And let’s not forget that Liverpool’s most-dismissed player, Steven Gerrard, had that tenacity that ball-winning midfielders need.
It is paramount that comparisons between Keita and N’Golo Kante are avoided, however, as the Leipzig star is not an out-and-out ball-winner; he is an all-around talent.
His performance against FC Porto in the Champions League in October is evidence of that: Keita made six tackles and seven interceptions, but also created three chances for his team-mates.
But while Klopp will be eager to curb Keita’s ill discipline before he makes the move to Anfield, he will no doubt be relishing the addition of the all-action Guinean.