Naby Keita show was a snapshot of his Liverpool career… the £52m midfielder scored a stunning volley but was hooked at half-time after another disappointing display against Atletico Madrid
- The midfielder was greeted by a huge fanfare after his £52m arrival in 2017
- Keita has shown flashes of brilliance like the stunning volley against Atletico
- But he was exposed again by Atletico Madrid and at fault for the equaliser
- Keita felt the wrath of Jurgen Klopp before he was substituted at half-time
- Atletico 2-3 Liverpool: Salah double seals victory in five-goal thriller
The summer of 2017 was seismic for Liverpool in terms of moving the club forward. Back in the Champions League, the recruitment programme was aggressive and ambitious and key areas were bolstered.
It was the summer when Mohamed Salah arrived; so, too, did Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Liverpool also made their play to get Virgil van Dijk on board. Most excitement, however, was around one particular name: Naby Keita.
Jurgen Klopp would tell anyone who would listen what this pocket dynamo from RB Leipzig could do and saw it as a transformative piece of business. Liverpool were so desperate to sign him, they agreed a £52million deal – then a club record – to secure his signature and take him off the market.
Midfielder Naby Keita doubled Liverpool’s lead with a brilliant volley in the 13th minute
When he eventually arrived 12 months later, the fanfare was huge. Steven Gerrard even presented him with his jersey, as Keita was the first man to take possession of the number 8 jersey which had been vacant since Gerrard’s departure in 2015.
Everyone was adamant that Keita, a Guinea international, would be the real deal. If you took the 13th minute of this helter-skelter clash in Madrid as your evidence, you would have no reason to doubt Liverpool’s judgement.
Keita’s volley was picture perfect; from the fact he never took his eyes off the ball as it dropped from the sky to his body shape as he prepared to strike to the connection – sweet and true – that enabled his shot to fizz past Jan Oblak, the monolith who protects Atletico’s goal.
Keita caught the ball perfectly with the outside of his right boot to beat goalkeeper Jan Oblak
He is well capable of these moments. There was a terrific strike against Crystal Palace last month; another one, easily recalled, was the clap of thunder he unleashed against Chelsea the night Liverpool were presented with the Premier League trophy in July 2020.
But these moments do not happen enough. Keita’s 45 minutes in the Wanda Metropolitano were a snapshot of his Liverpool career as a whole. The good was very good but the rest of it didn’t reach the required standards – not by a long way.
Liverpool were well in control of this tussle but Atletico were allowed a route back in when Keita was too weak and too slow to react to a short corner, allowing Thomas Lemar – another player who Klopp wanted to sign in 2017 – to dance along the touchline and cause havoc.
His pressing wasn’t good enough in the moments before Atletico equalised and the cheapness of the concession had Liverpool’s players shaking their heads. Salah, for one, stood with his hands on his hips on the halfway line, barely able to conceal his unhappiness that 2-0 had become 2-2.
Atletico were a constant threat down the right of midfield during the first-half on Tuesday
Nobody was more baffled than Klopp, however, and there was a revealing snapshot just before the interval when, again, Atletico got down the right side of midfield – the area that Keita had been asked to protect – with little fuss.
Klopp began barking and gesticulating at Keita, pointing to a big empty space. Keita fired back, pointing himself and asking what he was supposed to do. Whatever protestations he made, it wasn’t enough. Keita never emerged for the second period, with Fabinho introduced instead.
This was a big opportunity spurned. Soon Thiago Alcantara and Curtis Jones will be fit again and both have moved ahead of Keita in the pecking order. At some point in the New Year, Harvey Elliott will be back also, further adding to the competition.
It must be stressed that Klopp will never give up on Keita but he would be well within his rights to expect some more consistency. He is in fourth full season at Liverpool. These are the games he was bought to stamp his class all over. They should not still be passing him by.
Keita felt the wrath of Reds boss Jurgen Klopp before he was substituted at half-time
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