Naby Keïta has become something of a marked man for RB Leipzig, with domestic opponents in particular looking to provoke the 22-year-old Guinean star—often successfully in recent weeks. Red cards and sub-par performances have been the result, but his manager says it’s all part of the learning experience.
"This isn’t something that worries me,” Ralph Hasenhuttl told Kicker this week when asked about Keïta’s often unsteady, frustrated performances in recent weeks. “We have to be careful not to stigmatize the player as he's obviously a player who opponents will now try to provoke, but he is learning this lesson."
After being named the Bundesliga’s second best last year, Keïta was always going to be a target for opponents. It’s part of becoming a star, something still new to a player who is years away from his peak. And with that in mind, it’s hardly the worst thing for Liverpool if he goes through some growing pains this season.
Meanwhile, as Keïta has struggled at times to cope with becoming a targeted star, so too have RB Leipzig struggled to live up to the expectations set by last season, at least in Europe. Though they’re in the mix to again qualify for the Champions League domestically, their performances in it have disappointed.
They currently sit last in Group G, where Besiktas look out of site already with six points from their first two games and Porto sit second with three. At the back of the pack, Monaco and Leipzig have just a point each, with Monaco holding the tiebreaker, and there’s a real risk they could be eliminated entirely.
If that were to happen—finishing fourth rather than third and so not even dropping down to the Europa League—it could open up the possibility of Keïta making the move to Liverpool early, especially if Liverpool can find their own European footing and advance to the knockout rounds.