Almost three years ago, Naby Keita made his debut for Liverpool in a 4-0 win over West Ham United at Anfield on the first day of the 2018/19 season.
Jurgen Klopp wasted no time before integrating the Guinean into his starting line-up, with his immediate selection capturing the general excitement surrounding his future on Merseyside, having agreed to a move from RB Leipzig 12 months earlier.
Fabinho – who was signed at the beginning of the summer – began the contest against the Hammers on the bench and didn’t become a regular starter until closer to the Christmas period.
Keita was even given Steven Gerrard’s no.8 shirt after being deemed to be the player that Liverpool would build around; he was perceived as a ‘phenomenon’ by the club’s data department and seemed to be the perfect midfielder for Klopp given his offensive skill set and well-rounded game.
Daniel Sturridge – his teammate at the time – stated: “I haven’t seen a midfielder like him for a while, he is something different. It’s crazy. The things he can do with the ball – he can defend, he can pass, he can dribble, he is fast, he is strong. He has got everything.”
The English striker captured his unique qualities, but Keita would go on to share similar fortunes with the man who praised his skills while Klopp transformed Liverpool from top four chasers to title winners.
Sturridge was considered as one of the best around some years ago, bagging 22 non-penalty goals in his best Premier League campaign for the Reds, which has been bettered only four times since by Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku, and Harry Kane on two occasions.
Just 25-years-old at the time of Klopp’s appointment, Sturridge should have been one of the players for Liverpool to form a shape around, but he simply wasn’t available enough for a system to be tailored to his strengths.