Soccer

Naby Keita makes the headlines for the wrong reasons vs Real Madrid

Naby Keita was hooked off before half-time after Jurgen Klopp put full faith in him in Liverpool’s biggest game of the season… the midfielder had not done ANYTHING that was expected of him in wretched loss at Real Madrid

  • Liverpool’s Champions League hopes are in tatters after defeat at Real Madrid
  • Real Madrid take a 3-1 lead heading into the second leg of the quarter-final tie
  • Naby Keita failed to seize his chance to shine in Liverpool’s starting line-up
  • The midfielder ended up being replaced by Thiago four minutes before half-time

Jurgen Klopp’s enthusiasm leapt out as he explained a team selection that had one eyebrow raising inclusion.

There was no Thiago Alcantara, after his assured display in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Arsenal. Nor was there Roberto Firmino, whose presence in Liverpool European games is almost taken for granted. There was, however, a spot for Naby Keita and Klopp was gushing in his appraisal.

‘I could (not) avoid him anymore with all the training performances and that is the result of it,’ said Klopp. ‘Naby brings special things in. Real Madrid are man-marking and defending so we need dribblers, people who like this situation and can turn, make the next situation a big advantage.

Naby Keita failed to seize his chance in Liverpool’s starting line-up against Real Madrid

‘That is what Naby’s job is other than defending: shooting, fighting… all these things.’

Klopp has huge faith in the Guinea international, a man who once held the distinction of being Liverpool’s record signing. The German was so determined to land Keita, Liverpool paid £52million for him in 2017 and were prepared for him to have 12 extra months at RB Leipzig.

If you look at Keita’s clips on the internet, all the qualities Klopp extolled are apparent. When you break down his Liverpool career, though, there have only been brief flashes of excellence, so this was a chance to change: in the biggest game of their campaign, it was time for Keita to shine.

Keita ended up making headlines but they were not in the way that Klopp expected; four minutes before the end of the first half, with Liverpool on the ropes, puffing and wheezing and clinging on like a desperate boxer in a title fight, up flashed the No 8 on the substitute board.

The midfielder was substituted four minutes before half-time on what was a wretched night

Off he skulked, head down. He didn’t look at Klopp as he trudged away, his manager didn’t look at him. There was no sign of injury for a player who has struggled with fitness issues – he’s had just 141 minutes in all competitions in 2021 – and Klopp confirmed his decision was tactical.

‘It’s not a big story,’ Klopp said afterwards. ‘I don’t like it (being asked). He wasn’t the only one. I could have done a few more changes in that moment.’

But he chose Keita and the fact it was done so close to the interval illustrated Klopp’s exasperation. All things he wanted to see – the running, the fighting, the pressing and dribbling ­– was replaced by inertia. He started on the periphery and never moved off it. The breaking point came when he stood off Toni Kroos in the 36th minute.

With space and time, Kroos pinged another ball forward, Trent Alexander-Arnold erred and Marco Asensio pilfered Real’s second goal. It was as bad a performance as Liverpool have produced in Europe on Klopp’s watch, lethargic and riddled with errors. 

Jurgen Klopp’s Champions League hopes are on the brink after a 3-1 defeat in Madrid

On a night when Liverpool needed composure and calmness on the ball, those in Red moved it around as if it was a hot potato. It was inexplicable and it may well have extinguished their hopes of somehow winning silverware.

Keita, it should be stressed, must not be held solely accountable for what happened.

‘These are the things I don’t like in the job.’ Klopp continued. ‘You do that and it’s like one player is responsible for the performance in the first half. Naby was not responsible for that.’

This is true. But after three years, we are still waiting for him to stamp his presence all over a game of this magnitude. Liverpool cannot afford to wait for him forever. 




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