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Michael Owen accuses Naby Keïta of being a 'slow-burner' after productive half-hour Crystal Palace cameo 🤔
Liverpool's No.8 registered a stunning volley to seal a 3-0 victory for the Reds
Naby Keïta has been no stranger to criticism during his time in a red shirt - not even in the current campaign; one in which he has arguably enjoyed his strongest run of form for several seasons.
Without suffering an injury in the meantime, it should be emphasised.
It’s a critical point to make, given that the Guinean international’s time in the first-team was cut short not by injury nor by poor performance but by managerial decision-making.
That’s not to attack Jürgen Klopp, who could hardly be blamed for bringing back world-class defensive midfielder Fabinho back into the fold and holding on to his skipper Jordan Henderson and flying youngster Harvey Elliott.
A harsh call as far as Keïta is concerned, particularly considering how well the player had adjusted to a role, which was effectively, for all intents and purposes, Wijnaldum-esque as opposed to the advanced play for which the No.8’s reputation was built on.
These are the kind of false dilemmas we were crying out for as fans of a club that has been slated for a perceived lack of depth.
Yet, when it came to the meeting with incumbent European champions Chelsea, such critique suddenly appeared to lack a leg capable of supporting its burdensome weight.
Our Brazilian No.3 returned to the fray, whilst Harvey Elliott - a highly-rated 18-year-old once deemed unlikely to get much of a look-in with the first-team squad beyond the cup fixtures - was kept in the midfield trio set to go toe to toe with Thomas Tuchel’s refined outfit.
A bench once labelled starved now appeared a grenade away from a veritable armoury of backup options.
Former Bayern Munich playmaker Thiago Alcantara sat holstered, alongside Keïta, on a Liverpool bench near filled to the brim with quality.
We’ve acknowledged before on EOTK Insider that a couple of signings in the summer would have been ideal, with a replacement for Georginio Wijnaldum and additional attacking support topping the wishlist.
However, the options on offer were far from forming a collection comparable to that of a midtable outfit’s backup, as had been suggested by former Aston Villa hitman Gabriel Agbonlahor on talkSPORT.
Down to ten men before the break, following a handball offence from Reece James, Thomas Tuchel battered down the hatches and threw away the key.
Despite appearing desperate for some direct quality, however, Naby Keïta remained seated for the remainder of the affair, which ended in a share of the points and Klopp being criticised for not opting to utilise his No.8’s talents.
Fast forward to our meeting with Patrick Vieira’s new-look Crystal Palace outfit - a fixture that has proven previously to be either a banana skin in waiting or an opportunity to plump up the goal difference - and Keïta, once more, began the game on the sidelines.
An injury to Thiago Alcantara in the second-half saw Klopp turn to the former RB Leipzig midfielder.
Registering a remarkable late volley to officially kill off the contest, it’s fair to say that he justified his involvement in the tie.
Despite this, the Liverpool star was the recipient of some critique beyond the final whistle from Michael Owen.
“I am pleased for him, Keïta,” the former England international told Premier League Productions.
“I really want to see him do well because in my mind I keep giving him another chance.
“He has not had a real clear run at Liverpool, injuries and stuff like that.
“I have seen him before playing like that for Leipzig, brilliant.
“I am desperate to see him do well, but he is being a slow-burner at the minute, so he has got to do more of that.”
To be completely fair to the ex-Red, criticism aimed at the 26-year-old has been far from lacking in basis over the course of his Anfield career.
Yet, if his form this term is anything to go by, his critics could very well start to run low on ammunition.
We didn’t quite see a fully direct, barnstorming game from Keïta for the remaining half-hour he was brought on, with Palace’s introduction of Odsonne Edouard forcing Liverpool to favour caution before Mohamed Salah’s lead doubling effort padded the scoreline.
To say that the midfielder has been a “slow-burner”, however, seems to overlook the role Jürgen Klopp asked the 26-year-old to play in the club’s opening couple of fixtures.
We accept that there’s only so much optimism Keïta can inspire, given his historically close relationship with the treatment room.
That being said, if the former Bundesliga star can avoid being sidelined by injury and be an option for Klopp on the bench and beyond - as fellow injury-prone teammate Joël Matip is proving to be - the sky is the limit.
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