(Opinion) How Keïta’s late-season creative form shows why he’ll be key for Reds

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Writing for the Echo’s new ‘LFC Stories’ project, Sam McGuire has defended Adam Lallana’s creative output and claimed that he and Naby Keïta can both provide the Reds with ingenuity and invention in the middle of the park.

Harking back to Lallana’s fruitful outing in the 2016/17 season, McGuire rightly states that he was a force to be reckoned with, scoring seven and assiting a further five before the New Year.

Then, injury hit, and the £20 million man was unable to replicate that high-yielding period as his form was detrimentally effected by extended spells on the sidelines. That purple patch, however, demonstrates just what Lallana is capable of and why the role is seemingly so important to Klopp.

“The free-eight role in the middle third is a game-changer,” writes McGuire, “A midfielder capable of supporting the attack and, at times, turning it into a quartet.”

While he goes on to suggest that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could indeed be that player, he’s right to say that the 25-year-old naturally drifts wide, while Lallana innately takes up positions more centrally.

Enter, Naby Keïta.

After finally arriving for £52.75 million, many saw the Guinean dynamo as a penetrative, ball-carrying, game-changing midfielder after watching him star for RB Leipzeig in that role. His debut in the Reds first top-flight game of the 2018/19 season against West Ham seemed to vindicate those theories.

As McGuire claims, the No. 8 mirrored Lallana’s late 2016 form and positions: “During periods, it was as though Liverpool played with a diamond in attack and Keita was at the base.

“From that position, he would then push into space, wherever it was, and the Reds would overload certain areas. Exactly the same routine as when Lallana was playing that number 10 role when Klopp’s men had the ball.”

However, the injury in October preceded a positional tweak to a flatter midfield trio with the return of Jordan Henderson and the 24-year-old has often looked as if he has struggled to find his rhythm.

Although, he finally settled into a more regular tempo after an impressive showing against Burnley in December, which came before a breakthrough April when he opened his account against Southampton, before adding strikes against Porto and Huddersfield.

Keïta was finally operating interstially, opening up gaps for his teammates to do their business while scouting out positions in and around the action and getting into the box to offer himself up; very much in the same way as Lallana used to do.

Then, like Lallana, Keïta suffered another injury, this time against Barcelona, which saw him miss the rest of the Reds’ Champions League-winning season.

After quoting vast strings of statistical evidence, McGuire suggests there’s not too much to split 2018/19 Keïta and 2016/17 Lallana. Although the former lacks the obvious goals and assists of the 31-year-old, in expected goals, passes in the opposition half, big chance creation, winning possession, tackles, and touches in the opposition’s area, they rank very similarly.

While this is fascinating and insightful, it seems a bit of a stretch to compare the two in what are now two fairly different sides (Sadio Mané had only just arrived); surely the focus should be on the promise of Keïta’s development rather than the hope that Lallana revives his prior performances.

Following McGuire’s statistical research, and his sound reasoning that a rhythmically-settled Keïta could be that genuine game-changer for the Reds’, perhaps we would do well to remember just why Klopp shelled out all that money on Naby.

In terms of Lallana, of course we would love it if he could get back to his best and get more minutes under his belt. Previously, Lallana was Klopp’s gegenpressing leader, putting in impressive, snarling, and effective performances.

Now, however, if the Reds do have two creative players of his ilk, it’s surely Keïta that needs to be prioritised. Let’s just hope he’ll be fighting fit when he’s ready to play again.

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