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In the Premier League, it is often the midfield which decides who wins the title. Ask N’Golo Kante, who has been a crucial part of both Leicester City and Chelsea’s midfield in the last 2 seasons, where both of them have gone on to win the title.
This season, Liverpool seem to have that upper hand – they already have the likes Georgio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Marko Grujic and Ovie Ejaria in the midfield. The Reds have added the highly-rated RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita to the mix, who will join the team next summer for £48million.
Once the the 22-year old Guinean arrives, Anfield is likely to witness its best ever midfield since the days of Steven Gerrard and Luis Garcia. Jurgen Klopp will have the luxury to play Henderson, Can and Keita in a 4-3-3 or throw Wijnaldum into the playing XI in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The former Borussia Dortmund manager is renowned for his tactical flexibility and will relish the opportunity of managing such a creative midfield.
However, there is a catch here, as Emre Can is in the final year of his contract and has not yet signed an extension. This has certainly put his future up in the air. But the general opinion of people around Anfield is that the German will sign a new contract with Liverpool.
Naby Keita can slot into a variety of roles, be it as a defensive midfielder or in Lallana’s number 8 role. He can also shift wide, giving the likes of Can and Coutinho more space in the middle of the park. The partnership of Can (if he stays) and Keita will be instrumental in deciding where Liverpool end up on the league table, and how far they can make it in the Champions League (if they qualify for it next season). The German has managed to acquire his lost mojo under Klopp and will love to play with a player who is not only physically well-built but is also a gem of a footballer.
Under Ralph Hasenhuttl in Leipzig, Keita was generally deployed as a box-to-box midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 formation, but he had no specific position in it. In 29 Bundesliga appearances last season, the Guinea international started 17 games as an out-and-out defensive midfielder and also 12 games in a more advanced role. Despite being only 5 feet 8 inches, he is an all-out brute who averages 2.6 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game, making him the ideal shield in front of the back four.
Moreover, he also had 8 goals and 8 assists to his name last campaign, which speaks volumes about his ability in an attacking midfield position. With the likes of Salah, Mane and Firmino up front, there is no question that Keita’s playmaking abilities will be far better utilised than ever before.
Can is likely to keep his deep-lying playmaker role, so it will most likely be Wijnaldum who will yield his place to the highly-rated youngster. Keita is the typical modern-day all-action midfielder, someone in the mould of the great Steven Gerrard, and the Merseyside faithful will hope that he ends their title jinx once and for all, not that Liverpool cannot win the title this season though.