After what seemed like a blistering start to the summer, Liverpool’s transfer activity appears to have slowed down.
Apart from the £36m of Mohamed Salah from Roma and the free transfer of youngster Dominic Solanke from Chelsea, movement appears to be sparse at Merseyside, with the embarrassing u-turn over Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk summing up a lacklustre window so far.
The defender was believed to be Liverpool’s prime target before they withdrew their interest over claims they had illegally approached the player.
Since then it appears they have a new top man, albeit one who is a little less known on our shores.
Naby Keita – a dynamic, box-to-box midfielder currently playing for Red Bull Leipzig in Germany – has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom over the last year.
After winning the Austrian league and cup double with Red Bull Salzburg in both of his seasons at the club (as well as the Austrian Player of the Season in 2015/16), the Guinean moved to the energy-drink company’s sister club last summer and has gone from strength-to-strength.
Keita was arguably the standout player in Leipzig’s surprise debut season in the Bundesliga – one which saw them finish second and comfortably secure Champion’s League football – as he managed to bag eight goals and seven assists.
While this is a solid return from a central midfielder, it is more the defensive side of his game that has seen him draw the plaudits.
The 22-year-old was incredibly impressively defensively, managing 2.6 tackles and 2.6 interception which, alongside his 2.7 dribbles per game, have made him stand out as an incredible all-rounder.
It has led to people drawing comparisons with Premier League Player of the Year N’Golo Kante, and it has been little surprise that Keita has been linked with a move to Anfield.
The 22-year-old’s boundless energy and dynamism would fit in perfectly with Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy of counter-pressing opponents and outdoing them physically.
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From a tactical standpoint as well, Keita could provide the missing piece of the German’s jigsaw and perhaps a huge part of a tactical shift we have seen in the last two seasons.
As people have pointed out, it is no coincidence that the last two Premier League winners have had Kante operating in the middle.
At both Leicester City and current club Chelsea, the Frenchman has roamed the midfield and somehow managed to cover the entire pitch, harassing the opposition and winning the ball for the whole 90 minutes.
Not just a midfield destroyer however, the 26-year-old has also proven adept at bringing the ball out at pace and contributing to the attack.
This means he has been able to effectively perform the role of two midfielders – something which has inspired something of a trend in the last couple of seasons.
For the majority of the last decade, the majority of Premier League sides – and sides across Europe – have fielded three men in the centre of midfield, with the most common formations being 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1.
At Leicester and Chelsea however, we have seen 4-4-2 and 3-4-3 formations respectively, with only two operating in the centre (Kante partnered Drinkwater for the Foxes and either Fabregas or Matic at Chelsea).
It is no coincidence that the Blues only hit form once they abandoned 4-2-3-1 after successive losses to Liverpool and Arsenal and allowed Kante more room to operate, freeing up two attacking slots.
Klopp is blessed with attacking talent at Liverpool, with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Phillipe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Mohamed Salah, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi all vying for spots.
The signing of Keita would allow him to be paired with Jordan Henderson or Emre Can in the middle, meaning that four of the above, instead of three as we saw last season, can be unleashed on opponents.
Keita played in a 4-2-2-2 last season and appears to have all the qualities his French counterpart possesses.
Perhaps if Liverpool manage to sign him, he’ll match the trophies as well.