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Liverpool Linked with Leipzig Ace

Could Naby Keïta be the key to the Reds' midfield troubles?

Red Bull Salzburg v West Brom - Friendly Match Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Hey, you know how the Reds are averaging 1.3 goals conceded per game — on pace for 50 in a full season — and have been for the better part of four straight years now? Not to mention how half their backline consistently features two midfielders, after their arguably best centre-half was frozen then shipped out in the past six months? Yeah, we're still not signing any defenders. ALL THE GOALZ remains the philosophy, or so would have you believe.

After last summer was spent lusting over, then subsequently missing out on Borussia Mönchengladbach central midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud, Liverpool are set to chase a tempo-setting two-way central midfielder yet again. The reported target this time is RB Leipzig's Naby Keïta. Formerly of sister club RB Salzburg, the 22-year old has taken to the German Bundesliga like fish to water, notching four goals and six assists in 20 appearances, averaging a goal involvement every 148 minutes. What's remarkable about this return is the fact that Keïta mostly plays in central midfield. It’s no coincidence either, as he averaged a goal or assist every 165 minutes in Austria, again largely from the middle of the park.

This kind of offensive involvement would suggest that Keïta is an attacking midfielder, but from the double pivot of Die Bullen's 4-4-2, he also averages 3.2 tackles and 3.3 interceptions per 90 minutes, totaling substantially more than Liverpool's most defensively minded midfielders in Emre Can and Jordan Henderson. The former Istres man tops this off with a whopping 3.5 successful dribbles per 90, third in the BuLi only to notoriously tricky wingers Ousmane Dembélé and Douglas Costa.

The Guinean international manages this feat through a combination of athleticism and game comprehension, interchangeably sitting in position or busting a lung to cover ground and press where appropriate, while picking his spots to join the attack when a break is on. He shows terrific vision, setting his teammates up for quality chances with great regularity, but can occasionally get overzealous with his passing, picking a complicated option when a simple one would do.

Complications abound, naturally. Firstly, RB Leipzig are both well-funded and more likely to qualify for the Champions League this season than Liverpool are. They have no need to sell one of their prime assets, and given sporting success, Keïta may not be willing to leave. The second obstacle is the competition, with Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Bayern Munich all supposedly interested in the player.

Naby Keïta is young and promising and might be just the tonic Liverpool's stagnant midfield needs, fitting FSG's transfer model profile to a tee. He may also not be available, nor interested in a move. A transfer seems unlikely at this juncture, but should his name pop up again, it is one worth keeping an eye on.

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