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Keita Balde Diao - The perfect player to replace Coutinho in Liverpool's Fab Four

COMMENT: Liverpool are one of the growing number of Premier League clubs who appear to understand precisely what they want from the transfer market, something confirmed by their addition of just one player in the recent January window, along with the fact that the sole signing – Virgil van Dijk from Southampton – was someone they had chased relentlessly since last summer. This resolute self-awareness is aided by a clear playing style, implemented in recent years by Jurgen Klopp.

Keita Balde Diao's name has cropped up among the latest Liverpool transfer rumours. The Senegalese forward has been on the radar of multiple top clubs in the Premier League and Italy's Serie A for quite some time, but the latest speculation makes more sense than the usual gossip. From a purely attacking perspective, few are more suited to Klopp's tactics.

Last weekend's draw with Tottenham Hotspur was the latest indication of Liverpool's qualities. Contrary to what was expected of them when Klopp was appointed, they did not press and counter-press high up the pitch tirelessly for 90 minutes; instead, they sat off the opposition centre-backs, pressed effectively in midfield, and counter-attacked with serious pace.

Up front, their three-man band of one-on-one specialists, creators and speed merchants posed a constant threat to Tottenham's back line, underlining why Liverpool are the second highest-scoring team in the Premier League at this stage in the campaign.

The ability to take away space centrally and exploit it in more advanced areas through rapid attacking transitions is something Klopp has carefully crafted since arriving at Anfield. And, with an attacking setup led by Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, he has individuals with the necessary physical and technical tools to carry the plan out.

There is no immediate rush to add to the forward line, hence the aversion to doing so in January, but if he wants to add another option this summer, Monaco's Keita would be an ideal choice.

Having developed within Barcelona's famed youth academy, the 22-year-old broke out at Lazio in 2013/14. His first three years in and around the Italian club's first team were typical of a young attacker – he was obviously gifted, yet also undeniably raw. He lacked the consistency to make things happen game after game, but he enjoyed brief moments of brilliance.

That all changed last season, when he finally established himself as a regular, and important, member of Lazio's starting line-up.

Hitting 16 goals in 31 league appearances, he went from tricky impact substitute to maker and taker of chances. That tally led to interest from Juventus, but Keita instead left for reigning Ligue 1 champions Monaco for a reported fee of €30 million.

The Monegasque outfit, like Lazio, have earned a reputation for buying, developing and selling young talent, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Keita was the next player off their production line.

Despite having to adjust to a new country, new teammates and new tactics, the forward has achieved some noteworthy numbers in 2017/18. With seven league goals, he is the team's second highest-scorer behind Falcao, while only Thomas Lemar has averaged more than his 1.5 completed dribbles.

Those figures may not necessarily raise eyebrows, though Liverpool should look beyond the statistics when assessing Keita's ability.

He may not have completed as many dribbles or created as many chances or scored as many goals as their current front three this term, but he has displayed the offensive traits required to thrive alongside them in future.

During his time in Serie A, he demonstrated a rare versatility. Able to play on either wing in the frontline, he displayed genuine potency when cutting in from the left-hand side onto his favoured right foot.

He also showed glimpses of real ingenuity and intelligent link-up play while operating more centrally. It would be almost impossible for anyone to eclipse Salah on the right of Klopp's attacking trident, but Keita could viably compete for both of the other two roles.

One aspect that he would need to work on in order to be perfect for Liverpool outside of the attacking and attacking transition phases is in his positioning without possession.

Generally, he has played his best football when given maximal freedom of movement, but Klopp's tactical approach does not allow for such wanderlust. Defensively, the youngster would need to adapt to the high-tempo midfield pressing game.

Fortunately, given his age, upside and the fact he has adjusted well to life and tactics in Italy and France, it is reasonable to suggest this would not be a major issue.

Keita has stated that his "head is on Monaco right now, not another team". But Liverpool have shown that, once they identify a target, they dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to securing said target.

Should they add Keita to their ranks they'd possess yet another lively, incisive and skilful attacker; Premier League defences would be wise to take cover

About the author

Blair Newman

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