Jurgen Klopp has made clear Naby Keita remains part of his long-term plans at Liverpool, despite the midfielder enduring another stop-start season at the club.
Injuries have hampered Keita ever since he joined from RB Leipzig. The Reds showed patience to finally get one of their primary transfer targets, completing a deal in August 2017 that saw the player spend one final season in Germany before heading to Anfield.
There have been flashes of his obvious talent since arriving, but Keita has seemingly been stuck in a frustrating cycle of fleetingly good moments followed by spells out of the team.
This campaign has been no different: Keita has made just nine starts in all competitions, the last of them coming in a 3-1 Champions League defeat at Real Madrid that saw the Guinea international substituted before half-time.
“It was not about Naby, but I did it and now I’m not happy about it because we talk like it’s Naby’s responsibility. It was not. It was tactical,” Klopp said about the change.
The German coach has not started the talented 26-year-old since, a decision he revealed ahead of Sunday’s clash with Manchester United was due to the need for stability in selection, particularly with the upheaval in defence.
With Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all out, there has been a rotation of different options used at the heart of the back four, including midfield duo Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, who is now sidelined himself.
“A lot of things have been tricky this year. We’ve had to change so often and then you have to in the moment try and go for stability, that’s what we really need,” Klopp told reporters while previewing the trip to Old Trafford.
“For example, take Manchester United, where the last line [of defence] has played together for nearly 20 games now. Then you can make changes everywhere because you have a proper base.
“We never had that. On top of that, making two or three changes in midfield just doesn’t work out. People say to try it, and I would if I could only be nearly sure that it would work out, but you need stability in a football team.
“Other teams are just too good for you to make eight or nine changes. That has hit a few players this year, some of them have been injured and coming back.”
Keita has played 683 minutes in all competitions this season. There have been just seven league starts, and in five of those he was taken off.
A positive coronavirus test in October forced him to isolate, while thigh and knee injuries have kept him away from the first team too.
There been no goal involvements amid such limited opportunities, but he has created 10 chances at an average of 1.32 per 90 minutes, a rate just below regular Roberto Firmino (1.38) and better than both Diogo Jota (1.06) and Curtis Jones (0.88), two potential rivals for spots in the first XI.
Circumstances outside his control have worked against him, but Klopp has no intention of seeing the Liverpool cut their losses with Keita, who was a club-record signing at the time his move was confirmed.
“Naby trains really well, I have to say. Really well. Like a lot of other players, he looks really good in training,” the Liverpool boss said.
“But this year we need stability. We will make changes from time to time, definitely, but it’s not like we can take out seven, eight or nine players to change and say maybe we can win like this.
“The long-term future of Naby Keita, from my point of view, is here.”