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Liverpool’s Naby Keita quandary – Keep or sell?

Reports suggest Naby Keita is “unhappy” with his “situation” at Liverpool, so what exactly is the problem and how do the Reds go about solving it?

The Guinean has now entered the final year of his existing contract, with the club said to have prioritised finalising a new deal for him this summer.

However, it’s now emerged that things may not be so straightforward, with a source close to the player’s agent claiming talks over an extension have stalled.

Keita missed Liverpool’s Premier League opener at Fulham due to “illness” and was an unused substitute in their draw with Crystal Palace.

With Thiago, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones currently out injured, the last thing Liverpool need is another disturbance in midfield.

With Jurgen Klopp continuing to insist the club are unlikely to add their engine room this summer, what do Liverpool do about Keita?

 

“Unhappy with his current situation” – What situation, exactly?

LEIPZIG, GERMANY - Thursday, July 21, 2022: Liverpool's Naby Keita during a pre-season friendly match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at the Red Bull Arena. Liverpool won 5-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This summer, Liverpool have wrapped up contract extensions for James Milner, Mohamed Salah, Joe Gomez, Diogo Jota and Harvey Elliott.

With his current deal set to expire at the end of the 2022/23 season, a new deal for Keita was also high on the agenda, with the club keen to avoid the uncertainty of another player entering the final year of his contract without a resolution in sight.

On Wednesday evening, Sky Germany‘s Florian Plettenberg reported that Keita “is unhappy with his current situation” at Liverpool, with initial talks over new terms breaking down. He also added that a departure “was possible” this summer.

GOAL‘s Liverpool correspondent Neil Jones had a contrasting story, claiming there is “little chance” of him leaving the club this summer with both parties still planning to agree an extension. That despite interest from “a number of European clubs,” including his former side RB Leipzig.

It is worth noting, though, that Plettenberg was the first journalist to report that Sadio Mane would be on his way out of Anfield this summer. Keita, of course, belongs to the same agent as Mane, with Sky Sports‘ Melissa Reddy stating that the source “has a very close relationship” with the agency.

That would suggest there is definitely something behind the claims that Keita is becoming increasingly unsettled, and may also explain why he is yet to feature for Liverpool in the Premier League this season.

 

One of the few Klopp signings that hasn’t worked out?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 30, 2021: Liverpool's Naby Keita goes down injured during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Why might a new deal for Keita be proving problematic? Because his four years at the club haven’t exactly gone to plan.

The 27-year-old simply can’t be relied on as a first choice midfield option, mainly due to his persistent injury problems, and having splashed out over £52 million to sign him, it’s no real surprise some fans are disappointed by his time at the club so ar.

Klopp has backed Keita time and time again and clearly values him as an important option when he’s fit

“When Naby was fit and Naby could get some rhythm he was always really good, unfortunately he could not get as much rhythm as he wished and as we wished in the past,” the Liverpool boss said last season.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 16, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (L) and Naby Keita after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“The year before (Keita signed) it was Keita and Thiago were the two best midfielders in the Bundesliga by a distance. So to first get Naby and then Thiago, was obviously a good idea.”

Both of those players, though, have one thing in common, and that is their unfortunate injury records, which must surely bring into question whether they can handle the physical demands Klopp places on his midfielders.

When fit, Keita can be a real asset. He offers something different to any of the other midfielders at Klopp’s dispoal and, having produced his best-ever tally in terms of appearances for Liverpool in 2021/22, last season was probably his best yet.

However, from a business perspective, you can understand why Liverpool are perhaps having reservations about handing another lucrative contract to a player who can’t always be relied on for a full season.

 

What do Liverpool do?

BANGKOK, THAILAND - Monday, July 11, 2022: Liverpool's Naby Keita during a training session at the Rajamangala National Stadium on day two of the club's Asia Tour ahead of a friendly match against Manchester United FC. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Put simply, they have three options. Push for a contract agreement before his existing deal expires, allow him to leave for free next summer or sell before the end of the current window or in January.

The last of those outcomes seems unlikely for now, given the Reds’ extensive injury list. Perhaps they would be more open to a sale if “the right player,” as Klopp likes to put it, was available to recruit at present.

However, with Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain both likely to leave next summer, Liverpool will know they have some decisions to make in midfield.

They continue to be linked with Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, and you wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were trying to wrap up a deal for next summer ahead of time, just as they did for Keita’s signature in 2017.

2GG25RR City Of Dortmund, Deutschland. 27th Aug, 2021. firo: 27.08.2021, soccer ball, 1st Bundesliga, season 2021/2022, BVB, Borussia Dortmund - TSG Hoffenheim 3: 2 Jude BELLINGHAM, jubilation to 2: 1 Credit: dpa/Alamy Live News

Surely, though, the club will be looking to recruit more than one player in that position, especially with Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago getting no younger.

Securing Keita’s services for another few years would certainly help limit a midfield exodus, but what Liverpool really have to ask themselves is whether he deserves an extension.

A new deal on similar terms will probably appeal to the club, but has he really done enough to justify a pay rise?

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