What to do with Naby Keita

Given our lofty league position for the majority of the season and the consistency in which we’ve been winning games, the desperately poor form of our most anticipated (and most expensive) outfield signing of last summer, has gone somewhat under the radar but what’s gone wrong for Naby Keita so far and can we put it right? I believe there’s a number of factors in Keita’s current plight.

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On the opening day of the season against West Ham, Naby did a dummy/turn that totally bamboozled the West Ham attacker and took him right out the game, prompting a hilarious, dismissive waving away of the player from Van Dijk. He looked dangerous throughout that game and I thought ‘Oh aye, here we go, this lad’s a player’. Things like that are done purely on instinct, without thinking about it but that relies on confidence. Since then, he’s struggled with injuries stopping him gaining any momentum which has resulted in poor form when he does play. Let’s face it, the lad’s confidence looks shot to bits.

He’s trying too hard at times and making the wrong decisions, especially with his dribbling but the penalty incident he was involved in against Leicester, for me epitomised a player desperately low in confidence. Yes, he should have had a penalty but a confident player in that situation takes one touch and smashes it into the opposite corner of the goal with his left foot. He took too many touches because his confidence is shot and he was trying to make sure, allowing the defender time to get back and giving the referee a decision to make, which in this instance, went against us. He needs a bit of swagger and self belief back in his game but that isn’t going to just return overnight.

Reported to be a very shy lad and still struggling with the language, the hope is that he’ll become more comfortable in his surroundings but it’s a worry in itself. Usually, the truly top players have that unwavering belief in themselves. Compare his situation to Harry Wilson who has joined both Hull and subsequently Derby and lit up both teams immediately. He knows he’s good enough. Naby clearly doesn’t.

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This was a much discussed point during the early stages of the season. Keita looked tailor made for our all action, high pressing style of last season. He probably thought he was coming in to play as one of two number 8’s in last season's 4-3-3 system and was probably as surprised as anyone that we abandoned those tactics for a far more conservative approach. Now results don’t lie and although many of us (myself included) questioned the decision to change tactics, our record breaking first half of the season more than justifies the decision.

Where does that leave Keita though? Is he a patient build up, possession based type of midfielder? Not from the videos I’ve watched of him in his pomp at Leipzig. He was an all action, firecracker of a midfielder but we haven’t really been playing that way this season and as a result, Keita has looked lost at times. So often at the beginning of the season, I saw him look to Robbo for guidance on where he should be. You could see he was struggling to get to grips with the system, which brings me on to my next point.

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There’s no denying, we’ve looked far better playing 4-2-3-1 this season than we have playing 4-3-3. To be honest, it’s always been my preferred formation as I feel it gives you the best balance between defence and attack. The two holding midfielders allow a front four to run riot and in our system, allows our marauding fullbacks to join in the attack at every opportunity, knowing there are two sitting midfielders to cover for them. Once again though I ask, where does that leave Keita?

Let’s get one thing straight. The lad is not a left winger and that’s where I think some of the blame for Naby’s struggles can be attributed to Klopp. He’s badly struggled in that position and you don’t play somebody desperately low on confidence in an unfamiliar position. That’s bound to exacerbate the problem.

In our current system, he should play as one of two 6’s with licence to get forward, possibly number 10 or he shouldn’t play at all. Playing him on the left wing isn’t doing him or the team any favours at all as he’s been completely anonymous when played in that position.

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Here’s the hard part. How do we solve this problem with Keita? What do you do with a player so low on confidence? Do you keep playing him, hoping he’ll just play though it and come good? Or do you take him out of the team for a period and allow him more time to settle in and get used to his surroundings, team mates and system in training? Maybe coming off the bench in games with twenty minutes remaining is the answer, in the hope that he can build confidence with a few decent cameos, rather than the pressure of starting games.

Whatever the answer is, Klopp needs to come up with it by the beginning of next season at the latest. We paid a premium on top of his release clause and waited twelve months for the arrival of Keita and if we’re being honest, up until now, he’s badly flopped. Let’s hope he just needs a little longer to settle in and isn’t going to be our Veron - a brilliant player who it just doesn’t work out for.

Oh, one last question given our current situation... Do you think he can play at right back? ;-)

Walk on troops.
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