Concerns over Naby Keita’s Liverpool future were exacerbated as Jurgen Klopp’s gamble backfired in Tuesday’s Champions League defeat to Real Madrid. Keita was a surprise starter in place of Thiago Alcantara in the quarter-final first-leg clash – but was replaced by his team-mate after just 42 minutes with Zinedine Zidane’s two goals up on their way to a 3-1 victory.
Prior to the game, Liverpool boss Klopp said Keita had been given the nod because he is “a dribbler”.
But Keita’s athleticism was barely in evidence as he gave the ball away on several occasions, with the Reds’ front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota starved of service in the first half.
Klopp appeared to admit he had made a mistake in selecting Keita as he hooked the Guinea international three minutes before half-time, despite the fact the 26-year-old didn’t appear to be injured.
Either that, or the manager was driving home the point to his player that performances like that won’t wash if he wants to remain at Liverpool.
JUST IN: Mohamed Salah tipped to seek Real Madrid transfer on one condition
By that time Keita was hauled off, Liverpool were 2-0 down after Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio capitalised on poor defending from the visitors.
Mohamed Salah hit back early in the second half with what could yet prove a crucial away goal, before Vinicius scored a second to ensure his side will take a two-goal advantage to Anfield next week.
And the signs don’t look good for Keita, who prior to Tuesday had started just once in the Champions League and seven times in the Premier League, with his season having been hampered by injuries.
The Guinea international cost Liverpool just shy of £53million when he joined from RB Leipzig in 2018, but has made just 76 appearances amid a succession of injuries and tough competition in the Reds engine room.
Last week, it was reported by The Athletic that there are ongoing worries at Anfield about both Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
And Keita did nothing to assuage any concerns his manager might have over him with his performance against Madrid.
With Liverpool expected to lose Gini Wijnaldum on a free this summer, an opportunity looks set to open up in midfield.
But if this season has proved anything it is that Klopp needs better players as back-up to his first-choice stars – and Keita could be one of the players who doesn’t make the cut.