Naby Keita says he is not fully fit as he prepares to feature in the Africa Cup of Nations, potentially risking his availability ahead of next season.
Keita’s first season at Liverpool was a relatively underwhelming one, considering he arrived from RB Leipzig as one of Europe’s most highly rated midfielders.
The 24-year-old’s performances improved noticeably as the season progressed, but fitness issues and question marks over his physicality remained.
His debut campaign was ended prematurely by a groin injury picked up away to Barcelona on May 1, cruelly robbing him of an appearance in the Champions League final.
Having looked like also missing AFCON this summer, Keita was named in Guinea’s provisional squad ahead of the tournament, with their opening game against Madagascar on June 22.
Speaking to Guineefoot, the Liverpool midfielder has admitted he isn’t at his sharpest, but is raring to go ahead of Africa’s biggest football competition.
“I am very happy to meet my team-mates. I think I’m going to work now,” he said.
“I’m not 100 percent, but when I was [recovering] in Liverpool I had already started training with the ball.
“As I’m here now, I’m going to train with the team to see what’s next.
“To reassure the fans, my team-mates and the coach, I think I’ll be ready for the first match for Guinea. I am 100 percent motivated.”
While it is nice to see Keita involved for his country, especially after the timing of his injury setback, it represents a huge risk.
Liverpool’s No. 8 found himself in and out of the team throughout 2018/19, and in terms of his Reds focus, sitting out AFCON and returning to full sharpness would have been preferable.
Pressure will be on Keita to perform in his second season at the club, especially after fellow new signings Alisson and Fabinho impressed so greatly.
Should he miss the start of the campaign because of his excursions in Egypt, his progress could stall further.
Keita will have to battle to win his place back regularly next season, given the impact of Jordan Henderson in a more attacking midfield role, the continued excellence of Gini Wijnaldum and the availability of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
He is a special talent, however, and hopefully his comments are more precautionary than anything, and he stars at AFCON and takes that confidence with him into 2019/20.
Before their tournament opener, Guinea warm up against Benin (June 11) and Egypt (June 16), with Keita expected to feature in the latter.