Naby Keita is still waiting to find top gear, but fresh legs and an increased influence could see him inspire the title charge in new year.
The excitement that greeted Keita’s arrival at Liverpool was wholly justified, especially after having to wait a year for him to don a Reds shirt.
His reputation was huge as he waltzed into Melwood for the first time, taking the No.8 shirt, vacant since Steven Gerrard, and carrying a status as one of Europe’s outstanding midfielders.
It has been a stop-start opening four months to Keita’s season, however, with form fluctuating and injuries proving troublesome.
What skill from naby keita pic.twitter.com/Ge8vEKaFPn
— Simon Rhodes 69 (@SimonRhodes16) August 20, 2018
Barring those brief glimpses of his mastery though, we were still waiting to see the very best of the 23-year-old this time last month.
There have been clear signs of that in recent weeks, however, as he grows increasingly in-tune with Jurgen Klopp‘s demands.
A Man of the Match showing at Burnley was comfortably his best performance to date, with a 93 per cent pass accuracy and a total of six shots, three tackles—no Liverpool player made more—and three of his side’s seven blocks.
As Liverpool look to kick on and seal a maiden Premier League title in 2018/19, Keita could be the man who ends up inspiring that challenge.
Second-Half Season Wonder
It is easy to forget what a remarkable talent Keita is, simply because he has taken time to get going and Liverpool top the Premier League without him contributing much.
Back in the summer, though, when pre-season predictions were being made, the Guinean was mentioned endlessly in predicted Signing of the Season and Player of the Year lists.
In fact, as many as seven of This is Anfield’s writers felt he would be the league’s star signing in 2018/19, with a smidgen of bias taken into account, of course!
The former RB Leipzig talisman is now threatening to hit his best form with the festive period upon us, which could come at a perfect time for Klopp.
This is already a busy campaign that the Reds are in the middle of and the usual fatigue is likely to arrive as the months pass, regardless of how well the manager juggles his pack.
This is where Keita’s influence can become invaluable, keeping Liverpool at the same pace as champions Man City.
Liverpool’s diminutive creator has only made nine starts this season, with 11 squad members playing more times than his 17 appearances.
There is no excuse for him not being fresher than others as the business end of the campaign arrives, and he could flourish.
Keita was brought in as a game-changer—someone who could have a similar impact to City’s more forward-thinking midfielders such as David and Bernardo Silva—and that can come to fruition from this point onwards.
He is starting to break the lines more regularly and showing risk-taking tendencies, and this should only be the start.
A first Liverpool goal, and a maiden assist for that matter, will do him the world of good whenever they come and he is on the cusp of affecting a big game.
Sprinkling of Magic
The Reds sit at the top of the Premier League just before Christmas, in what has been a remarkable start to the season.
To only drop six points in 17 matches, all against top-four rivals, is proof that the title can come Liverpool’s way at long last.
City are an incredible force who will take some beating, though, especially with the talismanic Kevin De Bruyne now returning after injury.
If the Belgian is set to take Pep Guardiola’s side up an extra gear between now and the end of the season, Keita can do exactly the same for Liverpool.
His ability to run with the ball, his creativity and his off-the-ball tenacity can add another dimension to a team already firing on all cylinders, which is a mouthwatering prospect.
Keita is that sprinkling of stardust that can make all difference when his team-mates drift in games, grabbing matches by the scruff of the neck.
Just like Fabinho, watching Keita has been something of a slow burn, but just as the Brazilian has now become an undisputed key man, his fellow summer arrival can go the same way.
Don’t be writing him off for Signing of the Season just yet.