By Sam McGuire, Football Whispers
It may have taken a little longer than Liverpool fans had anticipated but Naby Keïta has finally arrived.
He showed glimpses on his debut against West Ham United on the opening day of the Premier League campaign. But the diminutive midfielder put on a show for those away fans at Turf Moor during Wednesday's 3-1 win for the Reds.
The level of opposition will undoubtedly be a talking point. The Clarets sit joint-bottom of the Premier League table and haven't tasted victory since September. But not many midfielders rock up and do it on a cold, wet night at Turf Moor. Let alone one supposedly still adapting to the rigours of the English top flight.
Yet Keïta did just that for Jürgen Klopp’s side. He was everywhere and he was doing everything. From blocking shots on the edge of his own penalty area to waltzing past a usually painfully organised Burnley team as if he was slaloming past cones in a training session. This was the RB Leipzig version of Keïta. The one Liverpool waited 12 months to call their own after paying $50million for the middle third dynamo.
He finished the match having completed 100 per cent of his dribbles, taken six shots and won one aerial duel. Perhaps the most impressive stat, however, was the fact he completed 93 per cent of the 59 passes he attempted.
Pass stats aren’t the be all and end all. Especially without context. But what makes Keïta stand out is just how incisive and progressive his passes were, all while failing to land just six throughout the 90 minutes.
Unlike others in the Liverpool team, he wasn’t taking the easy option. The 23-year-old wasn’t just recycling the ball and keeping play ticking over. Instead, he was looking to make things happen. More often than not, if a pass forward wasn’t on he’d carry the ball until an opportunity presented itself. That sort of player is the difference between walking away from Turf Moor with a point and returning to Merseyside with all three.
His involvement in the Liverpool opener will no doubt he overlooked. James Milner stroked the ball into the corner from 20 yards after being teed up by derby hero Divock Origi. But the pass into the Belgian was played by Keïta. Most in the same scenario would play in Alberto Moreno down the left and nine times out of a ten a cross comes in and Burnley comfortably get it away.
Instead, Keïta holds onto the ball, cuts onto his right and, despite being fronted by three Burnley players, slides the ball into Origi’s feet. The home side go from looking solid to scrambling to close down space in their own area. The player initially keeping tabs on Milner is drawn to Origi and the Liverpool No.27 is able to play a pass to the now unmarked former City man to equalize.
It wasn’t his personal standout moment from the game. That arrived when he breezed past the Burnley midfield and into space before pinging a shot goalwards from distance. Joe Hart, at full stretch, managed to divert it onto the post. But in that moment fans got to see just how explosive Keïta can be. And that was all done on his weaker, left side.
He needed to deliver a big performance upon his return to the starting XI and he did just that. The Liverpool No.8 was instrumental in the win that kept the Reds within touching distance of Manchester City at the summit of the table.
Premier League, meet Naby Keïta.