Klopp has no clue how good Keita can be­come

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - ANDY KELLY

THE ever-re­li­able James Mil­ner was a de­serv­ing man of the match as Liver­pool swept aside West Ham on the open­ing day at An­field last Sun­day. But the name on ev­ery Liver­pool fan’s lips as they spilled out of the Kop and on to Lower Breck Road was of an­other Reds mid­fielder: Naby Keita.

They had been made to wait to see the Guinean, signed the sum­mer pre­vi­ous for £52.75 mil­lion from RB Leipzig, and here was a debut of real class, tan­talis­ing ev­i­dence that the 23-year-old could be the miss­ing link to help Liver­pool bridge that 25-point Pre­mier League gap to Manch­ester City.

Jur­gen Klopp, the Liver­pool man­ager, is in no mood to dampen ex­pec­ta­tions. “Naby, we all have no clue how good he can be,” he said. “He’s too young to judge. What can we say?

“Ob­vi­ously he learned very quickly al­ready in the last few years, from Aus­tria [Red Bull Salzburg] to Leipzig, now here. So he adapts con­stantly and brings him­self to the next level. Adapts to the other play­ers, uses them re­ally well.

“So that was the idea when we signed him, it was worth wait­ing for sure. Usu­ally you don’t get a player like him. It’s quite dif­fi­cult. He’s 23 and all the other clubs are not blind, so we were lucky we could do very un­usual busi­ness a bit early and wait for him.”

Klopp has been im­pressed by how quickly Keita has adapted to life at An­field and gives much of the credit to his pre­vi­ous club Leipzig. He ac­knowl­edges the 12-month wait to come to An­field was a dif­fi­cult time for the Guinean, who col­lected four red cards in Ger­many last sea­son.

“We wanted him des­per­ately and we ac­cepted it [the wait]. We didn’t fight, When some­body tells you, ‘it can hap­pen in a year’, no­body in the world likes that mes­sage. And so he strug­gled a bit with that, though not too much.

“Last year was nor­mal with a few nice high­lights and a few un­lucky red cards. We watched them again, it was just a mil­lisec­ond late here, too ex­cited there.

“Young play­ers do that. It was not that he was overly harsh in his chal­lenges, just that he was too ready to win it. Some­times when you come too late, it’s not too cool.”

Klopp ap­pears to have a wealth of mid­field op­tions for to­mor­row’s trip to Sel­hurst Park to face Crys­tal Palace, with sum­mer sign­ing Fabinho and Adam Lal­lana yet to fea­ture, while Jor­dan Hen­der­son will be press­ing for a re­turn to the start­ing line-up.

It would be a huge sur­prise if Keita made way for any­body, how­ever many op­tions Klopp can call upon.

“We talk about Naby Keita, that’s good, he’s new. But James Mil­ner made big steps in the last three years, that’s the truth. It feels like it’s the best mo­ment of his ca­reer.

“Gini Wi­j­nal­dum, no-one speaks about him. He came from New­cas­tle as kind of a No 10 or winger. He can play the ‘six’ and the ‘eight’ in the way I don’t know many play­ers can. They don’t talk about him. It’s like he could fill up the bench.”

Klopp also sent a get-well-soon mes­sage to Manch­ester City’s Kevin De Bruyne as the Bel­gian mid­fielder faces up to three months out with knee lig­a­ment dam­age. Although Liver­pool could ben­e­fit from City los­ing their cur­rent player of the year, Klopp sees it as a big blow for the Pre­mier League.

The Liver­pool man­ager also re­vealed how he was only pre­vented from sign­ing De Bruyne pre­vi­ously by an old ri­val.

Klopp said: “You hear about Kevin De Bruyne and you think ‘wow’. No-one needs that. It’s aw­ful news. To be hon­est he was never my player but I love this player. I wanted him at Dort­mund but José [Mour­inho, then his man­ager at Chelsea] didn’t give him.”

He be­lieves the De Bruyne sit­u­a­tion shows just how quickly life can change in the Pre­mier League.

“It’s re­ally s**t news to be hon­est and it al­ways can hap­pen. We talk in this mo­ment but at 6pm we have train­ing and ev­ery­thing can hap­pen. You need to be ready to sort that.

“How many days did we have like this in the last few years. We talked last year prob­a­bly about our good squad and then prob­a­bly the next day some­one tells me Phil [Coutinho] wants to go to Barcelona, what­ever.

“You have it for a minute and then it’s gone. We need to re­ally en­joy the mo­ment but we con­stantly pre­pare the so­lu­tion for prob­lems we don’t have.”

Jur­gen Klopp: ‘Naby Keita adapts con­stantly and brings him­self to the next level’

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