Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp insists he has never doubted the quality of £52.7million midfielder Naby Keita.
Keita, who arrived at Anfield to much fanfare in the summer of 2018, has been reduced to a peripheral figure and played a limited role in last season’s Champions League success and the club’s current 33-game Premier League unbeaten run.
The Guinea international gave a reminder of his ability with a goal and an assist on his first top-flight start of the campaign in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Bournemouth.
Reds boss Klopp, who has reassured the 24-year-old about his lack of first-team opportunities, admits the relentless form of his league leaders and a series of tight matches have made it difficult to give him minutes.
“Naby had injuries, the team is in really good shape, so then do you change?,” said Klopp.
“We are not flying, it’s not like we won all of the games 4-0, or 5-0, so we had to bring on a player who helps us with defending set-pieces.
“Then Naby is sitting outside thinking, ‘why don’t I play?’ I get all that.
“So we stayed in contact, we talked and we spoke a lot about it.
“But in the end of course a player needs to have this evidence that the manager still believes in you. I was never in doubt about that.
“It was just unlucky and in life you need luck always. He started (his Liverpool career) really well – everybody forgot that – then got injured. And again we had two really good seasons.
“(I was) never in doubt about his quality.”
Former RB Leipzig player Keita doubled Liverpool’s advantage at the Vitality Stadium and then slipped in Mohamed Salah for the third after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opened the scoring.
Liverpool last lost a league game back in early January but, despite building a sizeable points advantage over Leicester and Manchester City at the top of the table, Klopp is not getting carried away.
“I don’t know if it’s so special because we don’t think about it,” he said of the unbeaten run.
“We get confronted with our winning streak always after the game, that’s the only moment. From that moment on, nobody thinks about it.
“It’s not that I have to keep myself together because I’m flying and want to constantly smile and run around.
“I’m pretty concerned about always the next game and that means we have to make sure that we’re always in the best possible shape.
“And the boys are in the same mood. The boys so far were 100 per cent serious and will stay (like that) and see where it leads us.”
The comfortable nature of the south coast success meant Klopp was afforded the luxury of giving breathers to unused substitutes Divock Origi – who scored twice in Wednesday’s Merseyside derby win over Everton – and Sadio Mane ahead of Tuesday’s crunch European clash with RB Salzburg.
Klopp also gave midfielders Adam Lallana and Georgino Wijnaldum the weekend off because of minor injury concerns.
He believes resting and rotating his players will be key to successfully negotiating a hectic December schedule and competing in five different competitions.
“It was wonderful – maybe the best thing of the (Bournemouth) game – we didn’t have to use Sadio Mane,” said the German, whose team must avoid defeat in Austria to reach the Champions League knockout stages.
“He was the all-time (ever-present) player in the last couple of weeks, so he could stay outside, Divock outside.
“The people were shouting for Divock Origi, I get that, I loved the performance of Divock Origi (against Everton) but bringing him on to say thank you or whatever, we have so many games.
“We will see how we start on Tuesday. I have no clue about that now.
“But (on Saturday) we could give at least one or two – plus Gini (Wijnaldum), plus Adam – kind of a rest, and hopefully they are all fit again on Tuesday and then we make a new decision.”
Stay updated with the latest news, gossip and football stories by following us @Football_P