I’ll lay all my cards on the table so everyone is clear on my position here. I think Naby Keita has the potential to be the best midfielder in the Premier League when he arrives this summer. I have it under good authority that when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he already had three missed calls from Naby Keita. I have been watching the Guinean very closely since the deal was announced in August and I was at fever pitch when we were linked with an early January swoop. Unfortunately that never materialised, but my own personal interest did not wane and I continue to watch him whenever I get the chance to.
And this weekend was a perfect opportunity for him to pass a real acid test as Red Bull Leipzig played fellow Champions League quarter finalists Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga this weekend. Leipzig won 2-1 and Keita was the star of the show as the champions elect were beaten for only the second time in 19 games. It was also the first time the Bavarian giants have ever lost to Leipzig.
Keita genuinely caught the eye, scoring one and assisting the eventual winner for Timo Werner. Werner has also been linked with Liverpool in recent weeks and his display against the seasoned Champions League veterans of Bayern was eye catching enough for me to happily nod at this rumour and hope that it’s true. Whilst we’re all enjoying the work of Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings is very keen to make an impression when given the opportunity, you do feel that the drop off when the Brazilian doesn’t play is too profound for us to sustain for a long period of time. Werner would be a very different prospect altogether.
But as well as Werner played, Keita was the star of the show. He was on hand to swoop on a second ball and level the match after he broke forward with purpose. It wasn’t the best goal he will ever score but I personally find it encouraging that he was on hand to hoover up a loose ball as I think that is a weakness we can have in both attack and defence. That’s one of the big reasons why I am so excited about this signing â€“ Keita seems to be able to do a little bit of everything. Winning an enhanced number of second balls is something that would genuinely, severely improve our game. We have long evolved past Lucas Leiva but since he fell out of the first team, we don’t have a midfielder who has a gift of dealing with the second ball. And all too often we get punished, Swansea away being a recent example that sticks in my throat. Having a midfielder intelligent enough to read the bounce of the ball will help us a huge amount.
Keita went on to set up the winning goal for Werner with a lovely slide rule pass. It wasn’t the hardest ball in the world to make but I loved how far up the field he was and how intelligently he dropped into space. Very quickly, he was able to set Werner away but the German striker is the one who can take most of the credit for what was ultimately the winner, it was a super finish.
Keita was, what seemed, rather strangely, substituted after 69 minutes with the game in the balance and Bayern seeing a lot of the ball but the decision was vindicated as RBL held on for a famous win.
Naby Keita hasn’t travelled on international duty with Guinea as he is suffering with a fever and a bruised spine. That might explain his shortened match. Hopefully he gets better soon â€“ the 1st July cannot come soon enough!
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