When Liverpool paid a then club record fee for Red Bull Leipzig midfielder and hot prospect Naby Keita back in August 2017, it seemed the perfect signing for both parties.
The Reds agreed to pay the £48 million release clause that will allow the 23-year-old to move to Merseyside this summer, plus an undisclosed premium.
However, how has one of the Bundesliga’s most prominent stars fared this season ahead of his Anfield move?
After guiding RB Leipzig to a record runners-up spot and a first Champions League finish last season, it quickly became known that Keita was one of the fundamental driving forces behind one of football’s great underdog stories.
In 31 Bundesliga appearances last season, Keita recorded a healthy total of eight goals and seven assists from midfield, helping Leipzig finish higher than the likes of Borrusia Dortmund, Schalke, Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim.
However, the 2017/18 campaign has seen a significant decline for the club with their Champions League debut coming to an early exit and their league form taking a considerable blow. This has represented a genuinely disappointing campaign for the German side.
Keita’s record of nine goals and seven assists this campaign still highlights the individual talent that the Reds broke the bank for back in the summer.
When Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona for a Premier League record £146 million fee, many fans had hoped they might be able to get Keita to Anfield in January, rather than the upcoming transfer window, as had been initially agreed.
However, according to the BBC Sport, both clubs swiftly confirmed that this wasn’t an option and Keita remained in Leipzig for the rest of the campaign.
Despite spending more time on the bench this season, due to injury, Keita has predominantly featured in the centre of midfield in a 4-4-2 for Leipzig, though he has appeared as part of a midfield three or further up the pitch on occasions.
Concerning playing style, the Guinean international is a natural box-to-box player, tenacious, incredibly fit and with the ability to affect the game at both ends of the pitch.
Jurgen Klopp’s team usually play with a three-man midfield, often made up of one sitting midfielder – usually Jordan Henderson or Emre Can, who looks set to leave Liverpool as a free agent in the summer.
The two central spots this season has seen a rotation between James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum.
However, injuries would suggest that more depth is needed towards the latter parts of the season and demonstrates why Keita would have been perfect for Klopp had they retrieved him in January.
When comparing Keita’s offensive statistics to Liverpool’s current midfielders, he more than holds his own.
With six domestic league goals, it represents more than any Reds midfielder has managed in the Premier League this season, and he also averages significantly more successful dribbles per game.
An encouraging statistic for Liverpool supporters as well will be the fact that all four of Keita’s league goals have come from outside the area, demonstrating he can replace the long-range shooting ability of Coutinho.
Liverpool will be hoping they can carry on their positive form between now and the end of the season, even without Keita, and the Reds’ progress in Europe will no doubt be one of the reasons the 23-year-old was so desperate to join Klopp back in the summer.
With the Guinean already signed up for next season and more sure to follow him to Anfield, Klopp will no doubt be under pressure to push the team to the next level and lay the foundations for a title challenge in the upcoming campaign.