On Tuesday against Real Madrid, Naby Keïta lasted just 42 minutes before being replaced by Thiago Alcantara in a move that manager Jürgen Klopp insisted was tactical and not a reflection of the player’s performance.
For those watching, though, including ex-Red Jamie Carragher, Keïta’s lethargic performance was emblematic of—and a key reason for—the Reds looking uncompetitive in a first half that may have ended their European dreams.
“That first-half performance I think is one of the worst I have seen under Jurgen Klopp in six years,” Carragher said on CBS. “There was nothing going forward, no intensity, giving chances up. The first half was not acceptable.
“They were miles off it. We talk about the team and the midfield [Klopp] picked. Naby Keïta went into midfield to put pressure on Kroos and Modric and he was nowhere near and ends up getting brought off just before half-time.”
Klopp’s decision to introduce Keïta was puzzling given he has hardly played in recent weeks while Thiago has been in form. Combined with the removal of Roberto Firmino up top, the result was a lack of pressure on Madrid.
By the time Keïta came off, Liverpool were down two goals and lucky not to be entirely out of the match, and the scoreline could largely be blamed on the selected team giving Madrid’s Toni Kroos the freedom of midfield.
The introduction of Thiago helped the Reds play Madrid even the rest of the way, resulting in a 3-1 final defeat. If Liverpool can’t now overcome that in the second leg, the team selection and first half in Madrid will be to blame.
“What I saw in the second half is what I thought I would see for 90 minutes,” Carragher added. “It was almost a 50-50 game. Real Madrid were still good in the second half, but Liverpool made a game of it.”