After months of speculation in a saga rife with twists and turns, Liverpool finally managed to acquire the signature of Naby Keita. However, the Guinean will not be leaving RasenBallsport Leipzig until the summer of 2018, though there are rumours of a rushed deal in January.
Just like Leipzig, Liverpool faces an influx of additional games as per qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. The Reds were expected to push onto the next level after earning a top-four berth last season. Those plans have been put on hiatus now, however, as form has been completely derailed.
It’s no secret Liverpool has long struggled with defensive responsibilities ever since the latter days of Rafa Benítez. The midfield, too, has left much to be desired – with the club still yet to replace Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard.
Last season saw the famed Gegenpressing blossom as opponents were ensnared and suffocated from all directions. The tactic raised the performance levels of many, but perhaps no player more than Adam Lallana.
After two seasons marred with inconsistency, Lallana was a different player when placed in the midfield. The ex-Southampton player was finally able to make full use of his energy in pressing intensely and doing so intelligently. Lallana’s injury in August has since left a huge void and, though he is supposed to return soon, the Reds will be eager to bring in another energetic player in Keïta.
While Lallana has had a lasting impact since his new, deeper role in the centre of the pitch, the same cannot be said for Gini Wijnaldum. The Dutchman was a key player in Jürgen Klopp’s first season due to his bountiful experience after eight seasons in the similarly 4-3-3 and pressing-obsessed Eredivisie – with Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven. This season, Wijnaldum has looked a shadow of his former self and looks nowhere near as sharp on the ball, not even at home, where he normally excels.
The demolition of Arsenal at Anfield seems like an eternity ago, in light of recent upheaval. Liverpool has seriously struggled for goals, with an abhorrently poor shot conversion rate. In Leipzig’s first ever season in the top flight, Keita notched eight goals and seven assists in the Bundesliga. It goes without saying Liverpool could seriously do with the 22-year-old’s direct attacking threat and prolific nature in the final third.
It would be a massive understatement to suggest Keita left his mark on matches with his boundless energy and commitment. One player who seems to lag in that respect is Emre Can. There is an ever-growing fear surrounding the Merseyside outfit the German international will leave on a free, with just months left on his contract. Alarmingly, Can told kicker it was “an honour” to be linked with Italian champions Juventus and will be eligible to talk to clubs outside the Premier League about a move in January.
Lack of depth has proven to be a colossal weakness for Liverpool, following hesitation in the summer transfer window, and the loss of Can will be another huge loss. The Frankfurt-born midfielder’s performances have suffered as much as contractual talks and looks completely out of place. Undoubtedly a prospect, Can will have to work seriously work on his inconsistency in order to get back on track.
One of the few things Liverpool did right in the window was to fend off interest from FC Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho. Stories surrounding the Brazilian international were one of treachery and deceit, though likely exaggerated.
Nevertheless, Coutinho's U-turn has not dented his form and he has looked as sharp as ever, and, like Lallana, has recently thrived in a more inclusive deeper role. Of course, there are no guarantees Coutinho will stay put anytime soon – the allure of stronger teams will be impossible to ignore, and it is just another reason the sharp incisiveness of Keïta is needed to reinvigorate a shaky midfield.
It looks beyond likely Naby Keita will stay put for the rest of the season with die Roten still very much alive and kicking in Europe and domestically. Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick is adamant the club’s talismanic midfielder will remain for the remainder of his tenure.
There is some solace for Klopp, of course. Marko Grujić is still available and, by all right, deserves a shot after a series of convincing performances for the Liverpool U23s who now sit top of their respective league. Moreover, the signing of Andrew Robertson and resurgence of Alberto Moreno has freed up James Milner for his favoured midfield position