Liverpool take on AC Milan at Anfield in the Champions League on Wednesday night, having suffered the blow of losing youngster Harvey Elliott to injury last weekend
Video LoadingVideo UnavailableClick to playTap to playThe video will auto-play soon8CancelPlay nowJurgen Klopp previews Liverpool v AC MilanByMark JonesSports Features Editor
- 14:41, 15 Sep 2021
- Updated14:44, 15 Sep 2021
In the Liverpool universe, there is a special phenomenon that takes place in the few weeks before every season. Well, at least the most recent seasons anyway.
Because that is the time that the planets align, the puzzle pieces click into place and the message goes out.
This is going to be Naby Keita's year.
What was once a mocking trope aimed at the club's fans has moved inwards since the successes under Jurgen Klopp, as the optimism is abound that this is the season that fans will see the Keita they fell in love with while watching on YouTube.
Such was the fervour surrounding the chase of the Guinean in 2017, many fans became addicted to watching him and predicting just how he would transform Klopp's side. Yet with the transfer agreed for the following year, by the time he turned up in 2018 the team had changed how they play somewhat.
Naby Keita started the season in the Liverpool team
But you know all that, and you know everything that has come since.
Right up to last Sunday in fact, when Harvey Elliott made his third successive Premier League start for the Reds – a record for one so young – in the 3-0 win at Leeds.
Just as against Burnley and Chelsea, and also in pre-season after he returned from a successful spell with Blackburn, Elliott was bright and alert as he linked up with his more illustrious teammates.
He could have scored, and he'd made a welcome contribution before Jurgen Klopp decided he was going to replace him with the extra experience of Jordan Henderson for the final stages of the game. Then it happened.
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Elliott's injury is of course an awful personal misfortune, but not enough has been made of the blow it is for the team.
This was the starting attacking midfield player in three-quarters of the club's matches so far this season. He was there on merit and did not look out of place.
So, what now?
Well, this year's Keita chat did look to have some element of substance to it as he started the first two games of the season, with his agent then hitting out after he was left out of the draw against Chelsea.
Thiago was excellent against Leeds last weekend
The former RB Leipzig man had been impressing in his displays too, but Elliott's emergence had suddenly put a block on that.
The youngster's unfortunate injury has opened up a door again – for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as well as Keita, although he's currently getting used more often in attack – but Keita and Klopp will know that another, fairly convincing option has now emerged.
After overcoming a small injury, Thiago was brilliant in the win at Leeds, and he'd expect to get into the team for the biggest and best matches.
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He'd no doubt place AC Milan in the Champions League in front of a packed Anfield into that category, especially as he's been starved of the big match atmosphere ever since he joined the Reds.
The Fabinho-Henderson-Thiago midfield is the axis plenty of fans have been dreaming of ever since the Spaniard came to the club, but injuries to that trio and others have meant that it has never really had a chance to be established.
Keita will be eyeing his next chance after Elliott's injury
This is now that chance, but the suspicion is that it might be more suited to matches in which Liverpool need to exert caution as well as control. When they are playing the better sides, basically.
So, what of Keita?
The Reds face Crystal Palace at Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday, and if the Guinean doesn't start against Milan you'd think he would be bitterly disappointed not to face the Eagles.
Elliott's injury is awful but, as with all injuries, it presents an opportunity.
Keita will be getting his games, and you feel as though this is the time that he really has to make some predictions ring true.
Comment MORE ON Champions LeagueAC MilanLiverpool FCNaby KeitaJurgen Klopp
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