Opinion: Is Keïta finding his feet at Anfield?
Naby Keïta was man of the match against Burnley on Wednesday night (Getty Images)

Opinion: Is Keïta finding his feet at Anfield?

Against Burnley on Wednesday night, Naby Keïta showcased his superstar skills to full effect for the first time in a Liverpool shirt, helping the Reds to a vital 3-1 victory. Can he build on Turf Moor and help Liverpool keep pace with Manchester City?

ben-lockett
Ben Lockett

Regardless of Burnley’s recent form, taking on Sean Dyche’s side at Turf Moor is never an easy challenge.

That challenge became harder for Liverpool once Joe Gomez was forced off on a stretcher. Liverpool have since confirmed Gomez’s injury – a fracture in his leg – which will rule the 21-year-old out for up to six weeks, meaning he will miss the busy Christmas and New Year schedule.

A huge blow for both player and club.

Can Lovren and Matip step up?

Gomez has enjoyed a brilliant breakthrough campaign in the centre of defence and had formed a fantastic partnership with colossus Virgil van Dijk, with Liverpool’s defence far more formidable as a result.

In Gomez’s absence, Dejan Lovren will need to finish his much-improved 2018 with a flourish, and Joël Matip will need to avoid injury also, allowing all three centre-backs to remain fresh enough to get through the festive period.

Bright Burnley threatened a rotated Liverpool

Back to Burnley, who Liverpool could not shake off until the 91st minute of the match, such was their competitiveness, determination and organisation. The Burnley of last season had turned up and were giving Liverpool a real fright.

The Reds needed victory to keep chase with the relentless Manchester City, who defeated Watford the night before. However, Liverpool knew that victory against Burnley, plus a win on Saturday lunchtime against Bournemouth, would put them top of the table ahead of Manchester City’s crunch clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening.

A chance then to create some real momentum and pressure on the league leaders, but that required victory at Turf Moor. Yet after Jack Cork’s contentious opener for the Clarets, such high hopes were beginning to flounder.

Then Liverpool woke up.

Goals from the impressive James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri emphasized the fighting spirit that exists amongst the current Liverpool crop, a trait accustomed with every title winner.

Liverpool have found a way to win without always being at their best, largely thanks to the improvement in their defence, as they have proven already on multiple occasions this season. The title fight remains well and truly on.

Keïta breakthrough at Turf Moor?

One player who impressed throughout Liverpool’s victory over Burnley was Naby Keïta. Handed only his fifth Premier League start in a campaign disrupted by injury, the 23-year-old rose above the scrappy nature of the fixture and produced his best performance in a Liverpool shirt.

Everyone knows the limitless amount of class that Keïta can bring to a football pitch, hence the joy at his signature from Leipzig in 2017, even with a year’s wait until his proper arrival. However, up until the match at Turf Moor, Liverpool fans had only seen the briefest glimpses of the true talent that Keïta can offer to Jürgen Klopp’s team.

They need wait no longer.

Keïta undoubtedly came to the party on Wednesday night against Burnley, dictating Liverpool tempo and creativity going forward. The Guinean linked up well with his teammates, such as some promising moves with Daniel Sturridge in what was otherwise a fairly dull first half, before unleashing a venomous shot that Joe Hart incredibly managed to stop early into the second half.

Burnley then scored and it appeared Hart was giving his old club Manchester City a helping hand in the title race. Yet Keïta continued to make things happen and was involved in Liverpool’s equaliser and had more chances to score himself, with one strike blocked and a wonderfully improvised backheel effort stopped again by Hart.

Burnley proved Keïta needed in title race

For the first time across a full ninety minutes, Keïta demonstrated why Liverpool invested so much time and money to secure his future and best years at Anfield – they will be worth the effort.

Despite the unyielding Premier League schedule, which continues with a trip to Bournemouth on Saturday, Keïta has to be allowed to build on the progress of his performance against Burnley. Liverpool have struggled for creativity quite frequently in midfield this season, which has helped turn comfortable fixtures on paper into truly nail-biting conclusions.

Keïta has not played much football for Liverpool this season as he settles into his new club and overcomes injury niggles. He should be fresh and able to play the majority of the Christmas fixtures.

Liverpool cannot scrape their way through every result and stay close to the blue half of Manchester, therefore Keïta’s class and creativity will be required far more frequently from here on in.

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