Jürgen Klopp has admitted he sought to reaffirm his confidence in Naby Keïta, after the Liverpool midfielder endured a difficult start to the season, but said he never doubted the player’s ability to make a meaningful impact. Keïta had played only 14 minutes in the Premier League this season before an impressive display against Bournemouth on Saturday, with the one-time club-record signing on the scoresheet as Liverpool extended their lead at the summit to 11 points.
Keïta has been limited to a bit-part role since his £52.75m move from RB Leipzig last year and this season has been particularly frustrating for him after he sustained a muscle injury in August. Keïta, who has made 16 league starts in all for Liverpool, missed the end of last season with a thigh problem but shone after being promoted to the starting lineup for the 3-0 victory and Klopp said his belief in the midfielder has never wavered.
“Naby is sitting outside and thinks ‘Why don’t I play?’ I get all that,” Klopp said. “So we stayed in contact, we talked and we spoke a lot about it, but in the end of course the player needs to have this evidence that the coach or the manager still believes in you. Naby had injuries and the team was and is in really good shape, so then do you change and, if you want to change, we are not flying – it’s not like we won all our games 4-0 or 5-0 – so we [have] had to bring on a player who helps defending set-pieces.”
Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana, both of whom could return from injury to face RB Salzburg in the Champions League on Tuesday after missing Saturday’s comprehensive victory, have also been preferred to Keïta in recent weeks.
“He was just unlucky and in life you need luck always,” the Liverpool manager said. “The boys [who were playing] got more and more used to each other and then another injury came [for Keïta]. In pre-season he was not at 100 per cent when he started but there was never a doubt about his quality.”
Sadio Mané is expected to return to the starting lineup against Salzburg, whom he left for Southampton five years ago, after being rested. Liverpool must avoid defeat in Austria to guarantee qualification to the knockout stages but Klopp suggested he will continue to rotate his squad to cope with the hectic festive period.