Jurgen Klopp believes Liverpool could be about to see the best of Naby Keita after the Guinean’s star performance at Bournemouth on Saturday.
Keita provided a goal and an assist as the Reds won 3-0 at the Vitality Stadium, marking his first Premier League start since April in style.
It has been a frustrating season so far for the former RB Leipzig midfielder, who has managed just five starts and four substitute appearances for the league leaders.
But with games coming thick and fast – including a crucial Champions League clash away at his former club Red Bull Salzburg on Tuesday – Keita can expect, if fit, to play a more prominent role in the coming weeks.
“When you see a player like this, you ask why is he not playing week in, week out?” Klopp said.
“Naby had injuries and then the team was in a really good shape, so do you change? If you want to change, we are not flying. It’s not as though we have won all our games four or five nil, so we’ve had to bring on a player who will help us with defending set-pieces and all that stuff.
“Naby’s not been playing, I get that. So we stayed in contact and spoke a lot about it. In the end a player needs to have this evidence that his manager still believes in him. I was never in doubt about him and [Saturday] has helped a lot, it’s really nice.”
Keita arrived at Anfield with massive expectations after the Reds paid close to £53 million ($70m) for him in the summer of 2018.
He made 33 appearances in his debut campaign on Merseyside, but his progress was hampered by a series of niggling injuries.
“He’s just been unlucky,” Klopp added. “And in life you need luck always.
“He started really well. Everyone forgot that and then he got injured and we’ve had two really good seasons. When something’s working, it’s not like you [can] squeeze five more percent of the performance with another player.
“The boys got more and more used to each other, but then another injury came and he started again. Like this year, he wasn’t 100 percent when he started pre-season, but I was never in doubt about his quality.”
Liverpool’s win at Bournemouth keeps them eight points clear of Leicester at the top of the Premier League, and a massive 14 ahead of champions Manchester City, who lost at home to Manchester United on Saturday evening.
The Reds’ latest victory, their 15th from 16 league fixtures, came after Klopp chose to make seven changes to his starting line-up. Just as in the previous game, against Everton, his rotation policy paid dividends.
“Sometimes you have to talk to players,” Klopp said. “[Against Bournemouth] the people were shouting for Divock Origi. I get that, I loved the performance of Divock Origi [against Everton] but bringing him on just to say ‘thank you’ when we have so many games?
“It was wonderful that we didn’t have to, and the best part of the game was that we didn’t have to use Sadio Mane. He has been an all-time player in the last couple of weeks.
“We’ll see how we start on Tuesday (against Salzburg), I have no idea about that now. But we could give these two, plus Gini [Wijnaldum] and Adam [Lallana], kind of a rest.
“Hopefully they are all fit again for Tuesday and we will make decisions.”
Klopp does have a concern over the fitness of defender Dejan Lovren, who was substituted in the first half against Bournemouth after feeling a tightness in his hamstring. The Croatian will be assessed at Melwood, where Liverpool will train before the squad flies to Salzburg on Monday afternoon.