Expectations were high. Liverpool fans had waited a year to see Naby Keïta in red. And in the opening weeks of the season, there were flashes of promise, the quality that had made Liverpool willing to pay a massive transfer fee and wait a year on his arrival.
Then, injury struck. When the player returned, he lacked sharpness. His minutes were limited and, when he did play, his impact was diminished. Against Burnley on Wednesday, finally, fans again got to see something like the Naby Keïta they had waited for.
“He started the season brilliantly and obviously then getting an injury set him back a little bit, but you can see how good a player he is,” was Jordan Henderson’s take following the match when the Liverpool captain was asked about Keïta’s performance.
Keïta looking like he might be back to his best—or at least something not far off it—played a big part in Liverpool beating Burnley 3-1, and it will be key to their ability to make it through a gruelling winter fixture list that will test this squad’s much improved depth.
After Bournemouth on Saturday, Liverpool have just two days to prepare for a game against Napoli that will determine if they have a Champions League future. Then there’s Manchester United, Wolverhampton, Newcastle, and Arsenal. All before the month is out.
Liverpool will need Keïta at his best—and they will need Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner and Jordan Henderson. This next month will be what puts this squad to its real test, and it’s the kind of stretch of difficult games Keïta was signed for.
“That shot with the left foot and the save from Hart was fantastic,” Henderson added. “In his play he is comfortable on the ball and he helps build up play. He drives the ball forward, which is big for us. He was outstanding, along with everybody else really.”