London- The story that Liverpool will sign Naby Keïta from RB Leipzig has gathered exponential pace over the last few days. The move seemed unlikely a few weeks ago but the clubs are rumoured to be meeting in the coming days to thrash out a deal. Keïta, who was linked with Liverpool last summer, was one of the stars of the Bundesliga season as RB Leipzig secured an unlikely second-placed finish, a fine showing in their first season in the top division.
Keïta excelled and his valuation skyrocketed as a result, with Leipzig now demanding £70m for the 22-year-old midfielder. Liverpool would have to break their transfer record for a second time this summer to land the Guinean. Keïta has a release clause worth around £48m, which will become active next summer, but Jürgen Klopp wants him now. Leipzig do not want to sell one of their best players as they prepare to play in the Champions League for the first time, but they stand to make a massive profit on a player they signed from sister club RB Salzburg for £12.75m last summer.
Liverpool have already made Mohamed Salah the most expensive signing in their history and they were prepared to do the same for Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk before being forced to step away from a deal. Pumping more money into the squad to sign Keïta would be a serious statement of intent from the club.
Liverpool’s defence remains a problematic area for Klopp, but Keïta would undoubtedly improve their midfield. His ability to play in any number of roles in Klopp’s favoured 4-3-3 formation is part of the reason the manager is keen on the Leipzig No8. Only Ousmane Dembélé (103) completed more dribbles than Keïta (83) in the Bundesliga last season, while only Nabil Bentaleb (nine) played more accurate through balls than the young Guinean (seven).
Keïta won possession in the midfield third 37 more times (180) than any other Bundesliga player last season. He also scored eight goals and provided seven assists showing that, as far as midfielders go, he is a master of all trades. His rating of 7.60 earned him a place in our Bundesliga team of the season in his first year in Germany.
He is versatile enough to play as a destroyer – as shown by his returns of 2.6 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game – but using him as the deepest-lying midfielder would be a tremendous waste of his ability to get from box to box. If given a more advanced central role, Keïta could take the Premier League by storm.
Keïta would be an ideal fit for Klopp’s high-intensity approach but he would have to adjust to playing in a team that enjoys a larger share of possession than Leipzig, who are set up to play on the counter. Leipzig averaged 51.9% possession to Liverpool’s 58.3% and, while not a huge gulf, he would need to alter his style accordingly.
He is not one to shirk his responsibilities when his side have the ball. He made 45.9 passes per game last season, which was fifth at his club, but his pass success rate of 81.8% leaves room for improvement when it comes to successfully retaining possession. At 22, time is very much on his side.
Klopp isn’t in dire need of midfielders but if the chance to sign Keïta presents itself the club simply have to take it. With Liverpool returning to Europe – and the Champions League – Klopp needs strength in depth. Keïta’s all-round quality in both defence and attack would offer the team a further dimension.
Titi Camara, the former Liverpool and Guinea player, says Keïta has “his heart set on” Liverpool, that Leipzig are “looking for a replacement” and that the player has requested the No8 shirt as it is his father’s lucky number. It’s an iconic one at Anfield, but Keïta’s qualities and style of play suggest it would be the ideal fit for him. He was the player of the season in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2015-16, when RB Salzburg won the league and cup double; he has stepped up in his first season in Germany; and he has all the makings of the perfect Premier League midfielder. So, if Liverpool can finalise a deal, they will count themselves very lucky.
The Guardian Sport