Why is Naby Keita’s move to Liverpool such a big deal, and what has happened to Financial Fair Play in a transfer window where at least two players have moved clubs for over €100 million? Defending in Numbers is back to shed some light on the biggest talking points in football right now.
This week, Rob Armstrong is joined by regulars George Elek and Jake Entwistle to look ahead to the international break, deadline day and the biggest signings of the summer so far.
The qualities of Barcelona’s Neymar replacement, Ousmane Dembele, are also discussed as well as a record-breaking August for Leeds United.
However, the choice of player to focus on in this week’s edition of the “Who’s This Fella” feature is none other than RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita, who will join Jurgen Klopp at Anfield as a Liverpool player – but not until July 2018.
The most prolific midfield dribbler in Europe
“He’s brilliant,” said George, “a very complete midfielder. I’ve seen him compared to a lot players and it doesn’t really do him justice.
“The N’Golo Kante comparisons are wide of the mark. He’s way better going forward. Even the Patrick Vieira comparisons are also off the mark.”
Is he Guinea’s answer to Diego Maradona?
“That’s probably about right,” joked George. “While he is someone who is tenacious and energetic and he breaks down play well his key ability is carrying the ball forward and creating chances – he has an unbelievable final ball and scores as well.”
Last season, Keita completed more dribbles than any other central midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues, with 77 successful take-ons, yet there’s even more to his game than beating opponents with the ball at his feet.
The 22-year-old made 82 interceptions, won 53 tackles, scored eight goals and created seven assists for Leipzig in the Bundesliga last year. “He can basically do it all,” added George.
Teams won’t be able to sit back against Liverpool with Keita on the field
“Keita is on a different level to what Liverpool have in midfield in terms of his athleticism, end product and ability on the ball”, George continued. “He will completely revolutionise their team from that area.
“We’ve seen so often with Liverpool how poor they are at breaking teams down that sit back. Keita’s eyes will light up if he gets the ball inside his own half and sees two banks of four. He’s going to drive at it and that’s not going to let teams sit back against them anymore.”
According to Jake, the Guinean shouldn’t face too much of a struggle to adapt to the Premier League either and his style of play is an ideal match for Klopp and his high-pressing tactics.
“The transition from RB Leipzig to Liverpool will be a really easy one for Keita,” he said. “He will help breaking teams down but I think he’s going to add so much to Liverpool’s counter-attacking too.
“He can win the ball – he’s the only player who posted numbers that high for tackles and interceptions in Europe’s top five leagues last season. He’s going to be devastating when he reads the play, nicks the ball in front and drives forward immediately. That’s what they lack at the moment.”
A major upgrade on Wijnaldum – not a replacement for Can
While Jake believes that the Reds already possess some quality in midfield, Keita will be able to do things Liverpool’s current roster of players cannot when winning the battle for the ball and bringing it forward, box-to-box.
“Emre Can is quite a powerful runner but he doesn’t have that guile,” he added. “He drives in a straight line and will get you up the pitch. He’s better running off the ball.”
The German is yet to sign a new deal at Anfield and could be out of contract next year, with rumours of a move to Juventus on the cards.
“Liverpool need to tie him down,” said Jake. “Can has a future but Keita is a massive upgrade on Georginio Wijnaldum.
“We saw Wijnaldum against Arsenal. That was the most take ons he’s completed in a Premier League game with eight, and he completed 100% of them, but Keita does that almost every game.
“He’s already got 10 take-ons in the Bundesliga this season which is the most of any player. It’s frightening to think of Keita taking on two players and releasing Sadio Mane.”
Keita could have been an Arsenal player
Before he arrived at Leipzig to set the Bundesliga alight from midfield, Keita played for the Red Bull-backed team’s sister club in Salzburg, Austria.
Playing alongside the likes of Mane before his own move to England, the Guinean was picked out by Arsene Wenger as a potential Arsenal signing after impressing in the Austrian Bundesliga and the Europa League.
“Arsenal and Arsene Wenger were very keen on bringing him in,” said George. “But because of the relationship between Red Bull Salzburg and RasenBallsport Leipzig it meant that he went there [in 2016] but I’m really excited to see him in the Premier League.”
“He is perfect for Liverpool’s system,” said Jake. “He’s going to take their play to another level next year.”