Despite the departure of the influential midfielder Emre Can on a free, Liverpool strengthened their centre-midfield massively in the window with the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita for £40 million and £55 million each. Both players come in with a big buzz about them from their respective leagues. In Liverpool’s bid to win the Premier League for the first time, what do these two bring to the table?
Fabinho and Naby Keita Will Be the Best Midfield Tandem
Fabinho won more tackles, made more passes and won more aerial duels than any Monaco player in each of the last three seasons in Ligue 1. Once on the books of Real Madrid’s reserves (on loan from Portuguese side Rio Ave), the Brazilian initially showed his ability as a right-back at Monaco, playing almost 100 matches there after arriving initially on loan in 2013. In 2015, injuries and suspensions forced Leonardo Jardim’s hand ahead of the first leg of their Champions’ League Round of 16 tie against Arsenal and Fabinho never looked back since, making his name as one of the most impressive defensive midfielders in Europe.
The sale of Geoffrey Kondogbia further assisted his rise, allowing him to flourish in his new role of a defensive midfielder the following season. However, it was the 2016/17 where he really shone, arguably becoming Monaco’s most important player, helping the club win the league and make a shocking run till the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Playing alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko in a throwback 4-4-2 formation, Fabinho made his mark with his ability to cover behind the runs of Monaco’s attack-minded full-backs. He became the pivot that allowed the team’s attacking riches, led by Kylian Mbappe, to function in the effective manner that they did. Contributing with more than his fair share from an attacking point of view, the lanky Brazilian scored 22 goals – 15 from the spot – and made eight assists in his last three seasons in Ligue 1. Although Fabinho missed one in pre-season, James Milner might be handing over penalty duties over to his new colleague permanently this season.
Something for Liverpool’s famed attacking trio to relish, Fabinho also completed more passes in Ligue 1 than any of his Monaco teammates in 2017/18. The Brazil international also made 36 key passes in Ligue 1 last season – more than any other Liverpool midfielder in the Premier League last season. This is a player who can easily walk into the starting 11 of any top team in Europe.
Naby Keita, although a bit pricey at the rumoured £70 million – including add-ons – the fee that Liverpool have reportedly paid for him, is no slouch himself. Despite having been deployed in a number of positions for the majority of his two-year stint at Leipzig, the Guinean still contributed 17 goals and 15 assists for last season’s Europa League semi-finalists. Leipzig used him as a defensive midfielder, centre-midfielder, right-winger, left-winger, and even in the attacking midfield position. However, arguably his biggest strength is his tenacity.
Naby Keita has dominated the competition wherever he has been, from the lower leagues of France to the Austrian Bundesliga, before joining Leipzig in 2016. With his diminutive frame, standing at 1.72 m, he has been called ‘Deco’, reminiscent of the former Porto and Barcelona playmaker, pinging passes across the field in effortless fashion. Though there have been questions about his discipline in the past, there is no doubting his enormous talent on the ball.
“When he has the ball at his feet, he’s a weapon. It’s crazy what he does” said former Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhüttl after Keita’s benchmark-setting performance in a 3-1 win over Werder Bremen last season.
Everything Naby Keita does on the pitch holds meaning and serves an attacking purpose. At the same time, he is a player in a similar mould to Fabinho, capable of breaking down any defence in Europe, it shouldn’t hurt that he will now also be playing alongside good mate Sadio Mane at Liverpool. Naby Keita will also take on the added pressure of donning the celebrated No.8 jersey left behind by club legend Steven Gerrard but he is a player who does not wilt under pressure. It will be very interesting to see Fabinho and Keita up against the likes of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic in midfield.
Both Fabinho and Keita are the epitome of what a Jurgen Klopp player is like. High-energy, high work-rate, pacy, robust, easy to coach and good team players. Klopp went to the Champions League final with eleven such players on a minimal budget in 2013, only the sky is the limit when he gets handed a £200 million transfer kitty.