The consistency comes from Klopp, who regularly acknowledged Keita had been underwhelming while arguing ferociously tough initiations are a means to a valuable end. A theme of Klopp’s reign is gradual integration of signings who must adjust to finely tuned-physical and tactical directives.
“We are really demanding,” said Klopp.
“The boys have a lot to learn, if you want – it’s not that it’s constantly about that. It’s just that adapting to what we want always leads to a little drop.”
Keita has needed longer than Firmino, Andy Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho, who were similarly unrecognisable in their early appearances to how they performed once Klopp spent a few months with them. Keita is still not at that level.
Nevertheless, this was his most confident and encouraging performance since signing from RB Leipzig, the end product with that cutting through-ball to Firmino differentiating it from inauspicious predecessors, even though Klopp felt the real turning point may have come five days earlier.
“It was a big step, this game,” said the coach.
“The second half against West Ham was a big step but nobody really realised it because nobody was happy with the game and nobody talked about this. We will probably see a couple of bad halves from Naby in the future, that’s completely normal. But it was clear the whole week the second half was really important to him. The position was clearer and clearer. This was a really good game. There is still a lot to come because he is still adapting. Sometimes it takes longer, that’s how it is. People lose patience, that’s normal – but we don’t. This was obviously one of the best games he’s played. It looked natural. That’s exactly where we wanted it to come and where we wanted it to go.”
Keita can take further encouragement from the midfield masterclass of Fabinho, who having looked one-paced and lost in his first few games could be settling into the heart of Klopp’s midfield for the next five years. Without much fanfare, the Brazilian has started to look the complete central midfielder.