Four seconds showed what Naby Keita could do – but just 14 minutes define his Liverpool season

Four seconds showed what Naby Keita could do – but just 14 minutes define his Liverpool season

It was supposed to be the calling card for the next major evolution in Liverpool’s midfield.

When the Reds last visited Crystal Palace on a balmy summer evening in August 2018, they secured a hard-earned 2-0 win to maintain their impressive start to the season.

But the Liverpool fans making their way back home up the M6 were instead pondering a particular four-second passage of play.

It came in the first half. Naby Keita took a pass from Alisson Becker on the edge of his own area while facing the Liverpool goal.

A flick with the inside of the right heel instantly took the incoming Andros Townsend out of the game, and Keita then set off on a dribble towards the halfway line.

Then, without breaking stride, he chipped a ball over the top of three Palace defenders on to the right boot of Mohamed Salah, who then narrowly lost control of the ball which floated over the crossbar.

Selhurst Park buzzed in appreciation at the quickfire cameo from Keita, but that it ultimately came to nothing was a precursor of what has followed for the Guinean midfielder.

Almost 18 months on from his much-anticipated £52.75m arrival from RB Leipzig, Keita still has yet to truly catch fire.

Those early signs had marked him out as the one to watch from that summer’s purchases.

But while Alisson Becker soon underlined his status as the world’s best goalkeeper, Fabinho slowly emerged from the shadows as an integral player and Xherdan Shaqiri hit the heights for a few months, Keita hasn’t fully convinced.

Leipzig's Guinean midfielder Naby Keita (L) kicks the ball next to Leverkusen's Austrian midflielder Julian Baumgartlinger during the German first division Bundesliga football match.
Leipzig’s Guinean midfielder Naby Keita (L) kicks the ball next to Leverkusen’s Austrian midflielder Julian Baumgartlinger during the German first division Bundesliga football match. (Image: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The midfielder has, of course, been unfortunate with injury, more with the timing than the amount of weeks out.

This season has been slightly different, having already missed seven games through injury. His total last term was only 10.

Yet Keita has shown signs of life when called upon in recent weeks.

He was impressive in both Champions League games against Genk, although he tired during the second half of the Anfield win, and two very brief Premier League outings from the bench late on at Manchester United and Aston Villa – totalling a mere 14 minutes – helped turn losing positions into a draw and a victory respectively.

Liverpool’s success has been fortunate in taking the attention away from the third-most expensive player in their history spluttering to start his Anfield career.

And while Jurgen Klopp has been steadfastly patient, even the Liverpool boss knows he can’t wait forever for the 24-year-old to justify his faith.

Keita will have benefited from two 90-minute outings for Guinea in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers this month, scoring in the 2-2 draw at Mali.

A greater command of English has also been of benefit.

Now, though, it’s up to the player.

Fit and in some semblance of form, the sheer volume of games over the next six weeks – starting at Crystal Palace on Saturday – means that, if he can avoid further time on the sidelines, the opportunity is there for Keita to start reminding everyone why there was such excitement when he last graced Selhurst Park.

By: Ian Doyle, Chief Liverpool writer

Liverpool Echo

Photo Credit: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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