NABY KE ITA
Liverpool | 23 | Midfielder
If coming up against Liverpool’s asphyxiating counter-pressing was an unpleasant experience for opposition sides last season, the addition of Naby Keita to their ranks is not going to make things any more bearable. The all-action Guinea captain will add some extra dynamism and directness to Liverpool’s play, both in front of their back four and further up the pitch. Keita, 23, has been compared to N’Golo Kante, but he is a more creative player than the Frenchman. Opponents who seek to close him down are liable to be neatly sidestepped or to have the ball nonchalantly popped between their legs, and Keita packs a punch in the final third, scoring 14 goals over the course of his two campaigns in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig. Like Kante, Keita cut his teeth as a professional footballer in France’s second tier. He started out at hometown club Horoya and had unsuccessful trials with Lorient and Le Mans before making it third time lucky with Istres. He got his taste of first-team football in the 2013-14 season, when Istres played in Ligue 2 alongside Kante’s Caen. Istres were relegated, but Keita did enough to earn a move to Red Bull Salzburg, where his career took off. He won an Austrian league and cup double in both of his two seasons in Salzburg and was named the Austrian Bundesliga’s Player of the Year in 2016. Keita’s move to Liverpool will reunite him with Sadio Mané, who helped him settle in Salzburg before his own exit for Southampton. Keita has described the Senegal international as a “big brother”. As the inheritor of Steven Gerrard’s No.8 shirt, Keita can expect plenty of scrutiny, but comparisons with midfield greats are nothing new: he was nicknamed ‘Deco’ by his father, Sekou, and refers to himself as ‘Naby Deco Keita’ on his Instagram account.