Editor’s Column: Naby Keita will pen new terms and prove his worth once and for all

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Liverpool are currently in the process of extending Naby Keita’s contract.

The big one got done last week with Mo Salah finally putting pen to paper, while Joe Gomez signed a lengthy extension a few days back to ensure he’ll be contracted with us until 2027.

Neco Williams is on the verge of joining Notting Forest for £16m, which will mean Liverpool’s net-spend for the summer, before add-ons come into place for the Darwin Nunez deal, will lie at around £14m, according to Transfermarkt.

We’ve got rid of three forwards in Sadio Mane, Taki Minamino and Divock Origi who provided us 39 goals in total last season, replacing them with Nunez and Fabio Carvalho, on top of the Luis Diaz January deal.

But while we’ve recycled the forward areas, we’ve left the midfield as it is, suggesting Keita has a big role to play in the coming season.

His deal expires in 2023, but the Reds are confident of getting it done and at 27-years-old, the Guinean is potentially entering his prime – with most of the squad either before or after that stage right now.

For this reason, keeping Keita is important. He’s been at the club four seasons. He’s experienced and is a well-liked squad-member who played 40 times in 2021/22. Without doubt, Keita is coming off his best ever season in red, although it’s fair to say injuries have meant that bar isn’t especially high.

Still, it’s important to remember how well Keita has done to save his Liverpool career. In 2020/21, Keita was subbed off in the first-half against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals, and Jurgen Klopp didn’t give him another minute of football that season. It looked for all the world like he’d be offloaded, but no bid came, and our no.8 began to show his worth.

He’s traditionally been dogged by injuries, but he only missed eight games last season due to fitness issues; not bad considering we played 63 altogether. The previous term Keita missed 23, and the one before, 20, so his availability has undeniably risen since the appointment of Dr Andreas Schlumberger to the newly created role of head of recovery and performance.

Whether Keita will ever prove value for the £58m we spent on him is another matter, but at this stage, that’s less important. At least by renewing his deal we’re protecting our outlay and can at least recoup some of that initial spend should he struggle in 2022/23.

He has though shown signs of serious development. Tactically, he’s smarter now, which was an initial problem. Klopp has admitted in 2018/19 that his attempt to tactically improve Keita made the player worse and negated his strengths, but we’re past this stage now. The player is best when breaking through the lines, picking out through-balls, controlling the football in tight spaces and smartly pressing to force interceptions.

Next season, Klopp is poised to keep on experimenting with his 4-2-3-1 formation, especially given the signing of Nunez as a centre-forward and with the likes of Carvalho, Harvey Elliott and Roberto Firmino all adept at no.10. Keita will be very capable as part of a double-pivot, as one of the two central midfielders, which is where he played for Rb Leipzig when he made his name.

There’s many differences between being a midfielder in a three and a midfielder in a two, so the fact he has experience of elite performances in both roles will increase his importance.

Thiago, Jordan Henderson and James Milner are all in their thirties. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is regarded as a backup option and Elliott and Jones are still young, so this could well be the pivotal season in Keita’s Liverpool career.

Next summer, the Reds are certain to enter the transfer market for a high-level midfielder, possibly Jude Bellingham, so for Keita, it’s vital he stamps his authority on the upcoming campaign.

Keita divides opinion, but if Klopp wants to renew his deal, it shows how highly he rates him, and there is no better judge of a player anywhere. Confidence used to be an issue, as did his physicality in 50/50s, but Keita is looking stronger, more assured and his natural ability is blatant.

Obviously, the caveat is his fitness, but in this calendar year, he missed just one game injured, meaning he returned quickly – something that never used to happen. If he can maintain this then he could well become a regular starter in what could be another huge season for Liverpool.

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