In pre-season and the opening weeks of the season there were flashes of promise from Naby Keïta, moments that showed Liverpool fans exactly what the club had wanted to bring in when agreeing a deferred deal to sign the Guinean midfielder from Leipzig.
Then, injury struck. Keïta was sidelined and, when he returned, struggled. He struggled for minutes and, when he did play, struggled to justify getting more. There were rumblings he might still be carrying a knock. Whatever the issue, he appears to be past it now.
“It was clear that Naby was pretty much one of the first on the teamsheet,” said Jürgen Klopp when asked about handing the 24-year-old his fourth start in a row, with the manager citing “rhythm” as the reason why Keïta was, for this week at least, one of those first.
For many players, an adjustment period—time to come to grips with the demands of Klopp and Liverpool and the Premier League—has become common and, increasingly, accepted. For Keïta, though, it had begun to seem well past time for him to make an impact.
And so Klopp committed to giving him more regular minutes in the hopes that he would find his rhythm—that the flashes he showed earlier in the season would return and then turn from flashes to regularity. On Saturday’s evidence, it seems to be working.
Keïta probably had his best performance for Liverpool on the weekend, after a trio of solid if unspectacular outings, and with a few more he might find himself one of the first names on the teamsheet due to impact rather than a manager’s belief he needs minutes.
“We are really demanding,” Klopp added. “The boys have a lot to learn—adapting to what we want always leads to a little drop. It was a big step, this game. The second half against West Ham was a big step but nobody really realised it because nobody was happy.
“But it was clear the whole week the second half was really important to him. This was a really good game. There is still a lot to come because he is still adapting. Sometimes it takes longer, that’s how it is. People lose patience, that’s normal—but we don’t.
“This was obviously one of the best games he’s played. It looked natural. That’s exactly where we wanted it to come and where we wanted it to go.”