Klopp has no clue how good Keita can become
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’