The No. 8 arrived to much fanfare after a year-long wait, but injuries have continually held him back from becoming a member of what is perceived as the first-choice lineup.
In midfield that has typically included Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum this season, as the Reds have added the Premier League trophy to last season’s Champions League win and the ensuing Super Cup and Club World Cup triumphs.
Keita has been largely on the periphery in league terms—just seven starts so far—but recent displays have shown why he remains so highly rated.
His ability to press high, win the ball and launch counter-attacks have yielded great results, with a couple of goals against Brighton in particular thanks to his impact and intelligence once in possession.
Jurgen Klopp pointed out in his pre-Burnley press conference that Keita did have a good start after joining—but the strength and consistency of his team-mates meant that it was hard to regain a regular role amid his own fitness battles.
“Injuries never help and cost rhythm. People forget but when he joined us he did exceptionally well, then the injuries started,” Klopp said.
“He was not in the team in the first XI when we had incredible runs (in Europe). As long as the [other] players are fit and things like this, it’s difficult to come in and get rhythm.
“Now it’s all different, he’s in a really good moment anyway but fit as well and plus being settled now, it makes life easier and very good football possible when you have the skillset of Naby Keita. It’s really, really good.”
The boss is hopeful that the Guinean will be able to maintain his current level through to the end of the campaign and beyond, encouraging Naby to make a place his own.
It has never been a question of capacity to perform, more consistency in availability—and it does seem apparent that a midfield spot is up for grabs for anyone good enough to take it and hold onto it.
“The counter-press, high press, all this, he was used to from Leipzig.
“So it’s not that we had to adjust, it’s part of performance: If you want to perform at the highest level it’s a constant fight with yourself.
“Because of injuries he barely had rhythm, now he has, it’s good and we have to make sure he can keep that until the end of the season at least.”
With Jordan Henderson out for the rest of the season, at least one midfield role is available more regularly for the remaining four fixtures.
Keita, along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones, will be hoping to earn more game time to show their worth—and given the rumours over Thiago Alcantara for the summer, perhaps a midfield berth is available on a more longer-term basis for one of those performers, too.