With the international break upon us, several Reds will be looking to cement their roles in Liverpool’s 2019/20 campaign. This includes Naby Keita, who seeks to overcome the injuries that have marred his first year with the club.
Following Saturday’s 3-0 triumph at Burnley, a host of Liverpool players have scattered across the globe to represent their respective countries on international duty.
Those Reds without national commitments will remain at Melwood in preparation for the thickening fixture list that lies ahead.
Xherdan Shaqiri recently announced that he wouldn’t represent Switzerland this time around, opting to focus more on his club career as he seeks more game time under Jürgen Klopp.
Another of these players staying behind is Naby Keita. The Guinean has yet to feature in the Premier League this season after a tough summer battling injury.
He appeared to aggravate an existing abductor injury in training before the Reds’ Super Cup final win against Chelsea. It’s the same injury he sustained in the Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona, which ruled him out of the remainder of Liverpool’s season. It’s also the injury that Guinea manager Paul Put appeared to ignore, insisting Keita take part in the African Cup of Nations over the summer.
The hope is that the former RP Leipzig star is closing in on his return to the squad ahead of a heavy few months of matches. Ideally, he will be in contention to feature in his side’s Champions League curtain-opener against Napoli on September 17th.
But with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also returning from a long-term injury and back in the team alongside Liverpool’s long list of midfielders, how can Keita reinstate himself in Klopp’s team this season?
A sputtering start
Since his pre-agreed £52.75 million move to Merseyside from Leipzig last summer, Keita has struggled to hit the ground running.
The 24-year-old came with considerable hype, given both the one-year wait to get him and the eye-catching performances he put in during his time in Germany.
Whilst the Conakry-born midfielder routinely displayed flashes of brilliance in his 33 appearances — of which 22 were starts — he struggled to find consistent form due to recurrent injury problems.
It’s possible to think that Keita will find it hard to force his way back into Klopp’s plans, with the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho performing so well last season and Jordan Henderson reinventing himself in a more advanced role.
But as Keita showed in his brief cameo in the Community Shield against Manchester City last month, he clearly wants to prove his worth and fight for a place in the starting XI.
He was persistent and progressive in his 23 minutes on the pitch, driving Liverpool forward and drawing a good save from Claudio Bravo.
But after featuring as an unused sub in the Premier League opener against Norwich City, Keita saw any momentum halted once again by injury.
The right mentality, but is it enough?
Klopp will certainly admire Keita’s perseverance given the adversity thrown his way the past 12 months.
It’s well known that the German gives minutes to those most willing to compete, so if Keita can continue to build upon his pre-injury form, appearances are likely to come his way.
And with the heavy schedule up ahead, including matches in the Champions League and Carabao Cup, Klopp will no doubt be chopping and changing who plays to get the most out of his squad.
In that case, Keita can become an invaluable option to Klopp.
His pace, energy and athleticism will be very much needed in tough away games to the likes of Napoli in the Champions League and Chelsea in the league. Whether that comes as a starter or as an impact player off the bench, Keita possesses the tools to change the dynamics of games.
If the hunger and determination Keita showed in pre-season are anything to go by, it should pave the way for a successful spell in red for the Guinean.
He just needs to stay healthy first.