Jurgen Klopp played down expectations of Naby Keita after his return from injury at MK Dons, but added that “in moments you saw what an incredible player he is.”
Keita made his first appearance since the Community Shield on Wednesday night as he started in Liverpool’s 2-0 win in the League Cup third round.
The Guinean had missed six weeks with a hip injury, having been sidelined in the buildup to the UEFA Super Cup, and played 63 minutes before being replaced by Pedro Chirivella.
It was a mixed display from the 24-year-old, who looked bright in possession but often lacked the final ball, but this could certainly be expected given his lack of game time.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Klopp addressed Keita’s return to the fold, and insisted patience is required as he works his way back in.
“We don’t have to say [anything definitive] now,” he said, when asked his view of the No. 8’s performance.
“Obviously it looked good in moments, but he has to adapt to the position again.
“We saw it with Ox as well, that’s how it is if you’re out for a while, but in moments you saw what an incredible player he is.
“We don’t have to rush it now hopefully, but we can use him now.”
Keita’s comeback provides Klopp with another midfield option, to challenge the likes of Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum for a starting role in the Premier League and Champions League.
But, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, he is likely to continue to be eased back in, with there being no need to “rush it” as Klopp attested.
Liverpool are next in action on Saturday lunchtime, as they visit Sheffield United, and it should be that Keita is back on the substitutes’ bench for that trip to Bramall Lane.
Slowly edging him back into the side is the right approach, but just over an hour in Milton Keynes allowed Keita to show signs of his top-level quality again.