By 90Min
March 26, 2019

After a bitterly disappointing debut season in the Premier League, Liverpool's Naby Keita is already being linked with a potential move away from Anfield in the summer transfer window.

The Guinean midfielder arrived with a big reputation and an even bigger price tag - £52m - after he shined during RB Leipzig's remarkable second place finish in the Bundesliga in 2016/17.

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Liverpool initially agreed a deal in 2017, but had to wait until last summer before they were able to welcome the 24-year-old to the club. However, going off his performances so far this season, the wait was hardly worth it.

He has made 27 appearances for Jurgen Klopp's side so far this season, but has registered just one assist and is yet to score his first goal for the club. His lack of form has also cost him a regular spot in Liverpool's starting XI and, with just six starts to his name in 2019, question marks are understandably being raised over his future with the Reds.

Despite all that, if Klopp was to call time on Keita's Liverpool career after just one season, then it could prove to be a disastrous step in the wrong direction.

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In flashes, Keita has shown exactly what he is capable of achieving with Liverpool, putting in decent performances against the likes of West Ham and Bournemouth. Admittedly, those showings have been too few and far between to warrant a regular starting XI spot, but the signs are still there.

When Liverpool signed Keita, they thought they would be investing in an area in which they were sorely lacking - a progressive midfielder who is unafraid of taking a few risks in order to speed up the transition from defence to attack. On his day, Keita has the ability to do exactly that, stretching opposing teams with impressive footwork and explosive acceleration.

With the exception of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - who has been absent all season through injury - Keita is the only midfielder at the club who is capable of adding a spark in the middle of the park. The combined tally of goals and assists for the rest of Liverpool's regular midfielders is testament to the fact that they need more creativity from central areas if they are to ease the burden on their front three.

So far it obviously hasn't been clicking for Keita, but it's important to remember the fact that he hasn't been plucked from the lower leagues, or is a player without the right sort of experience of playing at the highest level. 

As is the case with so many Premier League debutantes, it was the intensity of the English game that caught Keita by surprise rather than the quality of the football and, as he revealed to Liverpool's official website last month, that's always something that can be worked on.

"It’s a lot faster here," he said. "The style of play is a lot more aggressive and the intensity of the game is really high in relation to Germany. That’s fine, I’m now part of it, this is the league I’m playing in. I’m just going to keep working hard.

"The German league is decent as well, it’s one of the best. Nothing is easy in football, it’s just about the business of working hard. Every game you play, you do your best."

Keita's qualities aside, it is important to remember that Liverpool stand a lot to lose if they sanction his sale this summer.

Granted, if he continues to underwhelm then his value is only likely to fall, but the Reds would already be guaranteed to make a loss if they let him off the book this summer, so why not give him at least another season to see how much he can improve?

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What's more, selling him will inevitably mean that they will be under a huge amount of pressure to find a suitable replacement. Clubs will be well aware of that fact and will most likely respond by adding a premium to their players in an attempt to squeeze as much money out of the Reds as possible.

Plenty of other areas require more attention this summer, such as a striker to provide some competition for Roberto Firmino and a left-back to act as cover for Andy Robertson, so selling Keita would prove to be rather irresponsible in the grand scheme of things.

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Knowing Klopp, it's unlikely that there is going to be an issue in the summer. He's rarely made a poor signing since he took over the reigns at Anfield in 2015 and he hasn't been one to give up on any of his players without justification. 

After all, we only have to think back to December when Fabinho was being heavily linked with a January move to PSG after he struggled to settle at Liverpool during the early months of the season. For Liverpool's sake, they'll have to hope that the rumours surrounding Keita turn out the same way.

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