Keita the missing cog in Reds' engine

Liverpool's Naby Keita in action during a friendly soccer match between Liverpool and Torino held at Anfield, Liverpool, Britain, on Aug 7, 2018.
Liverpool's Naby Keita in action during a friendly soccer match between Liverpool and Torino held at Anfield, Liverpool, Britain, on Aug 7, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Guinea midfield star lives up to famed No. 8 shirt, pundits rave about his superb debut

LONDON • The homage was reserved for forward Mohamed Salah in the aftermath of Liverpool's opener, with further tributes bestowed on left-back Andrew Robertson for producing the pin-point assist that had carved West Ham apart as the Reds romped to a 4-0 victory at Anfield on Sunday.

Yet the player who had made the difference returned to the centre circle unheralded in what was the Reds' biggest home win on an opening day since Wolverhampton Wanderers were trounced 5-1 in 1932.

Liverpool supporters are not usually slow to come up with a ditty for new signings and such will be Naby Keita's influence this season that it would be better for them to be prepared from now on.

The Guinea international was recruited to add impetus, drive and finesse to Jurgen Klopp's side and he mustered all of those qualities on his Premier League debut to secure the lead that his new team-mates never looked like surrendering.

That the 23-year-old was not even the best midfielder on display - James Milner took that accolade - merely served to emphasise the control the home side elicited.

Keita, who was recruited from RB Leipzig after a year's wait for an initial £52 million (S$91.2 million), did the No. 8 jersey - worn by former captain Steven Gerrard and not used since his 2015 departure - proud and showed that the delayed gratification had been worth it.

Milner was enthused enough, saying in his post-match interview: "You can only imagine how good he's (Keita) going to be with more time with the boys. He's top quality. He is a ball winner with great drive and fantastic ability."

  • Premier League talking points

  • 1. STABILITY STANDING CHERRIES IN GOOD STEAD

    That Eddie Howe is the longest-serving manager in the Premier League is another marker of Bournemouth's steady progress.

    Last weekend marked 10 years since they were given a 17-point deduction in the English fourth tier, and Howe is determined not to stand still.

    A new stadium is being planned and, on the pitch, Howe's side made light work of Cardiff City in a 2-0 home win on Saturday.

    2. GRAY CAN FINALLY SHINE FOR WATFORD

    It has been a little over a year since Watford paid a club-record fee of £18.5 million (S$32.5 million) to sign Andre Gray from Burnley and it is fair to say the 27-year-old has yet to justify the outlay, scoring just five times in 33 games last term.

    Gray, however, was a lively presence playing alongside captain Troy Deeney in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Brighton. There was a sharpness to his movement that suggests the forward may finally flourish for Javi Gracia's side.

    3. TIME FOR TERRIERS TO HAVE MORE BITE

    Since arriving at Huddersfield, manager David Wagner has pushed the idea of his team as "little dogs", the unfancied upstarts snapping at the big boys' heels.

    That was fine in their debut Premier League season but, sooner or later, they will have to start acting like they belong in the top tier, rather than being plucky interlopers just grateful to be there after their 3-0 home loss to Chelsea on Saturday.

    THE GUARDIAN

Football pundits were similarly impressed by Keita's ability to cover every blade of grass and play one-or two-touch passes to further quicken Liverpool's trademark rapier bursts.

"He is dynamite. Keita is the main man," former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp told Sky Sports.

Former England international Andy Hinchcliffe also told Sky: "You're just not sure what he is going to do so you're not sure whether to stand off him or get tight with him. This is why Keita is so difficult to play against."

Former Reds goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar went a step further, telling the Mirror that Keita can be better than Chelsea's N'Golo Kante and that "he's the complete package and the perfect person to wear that jersey after Stevie G".

Klopp's assertion that it was merely what he expected illustrates his high hopes for Keita.

"Naby is in (the team) because he's a really good footballer. I said from the beginning that he settled really quick. He plays a similar position and style of play to what he did at Leipzig," the German said.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2018, with the headline 'Keita the missing cog in Reds' engine'. Print Edition | Subscribe