The Brilliance of Naby Keita

It looks like one of the best midfielders of last season is available for around 60–80M. And it’s clear that Jurgen Klopp is willing to break Liverpool’s transfer record again to get his man. So, who is Naby Keita and why should Liverpool buy him ?

Who is Naby Keita ? He is 22 years old, guinean and plays for RB Leipzig, one of the smartest clubs in the world. What type of player is he ? Well, this is when things turn complicated. His statistical output is extremely rare, because he does so many things very well.

Let’s try to analytically arrive at Naby’s profile and find similar players. I’m crunching a database filled with the last 2 seasons from the big five leagues. What we are going to do is compare Naby’s season at Leipzig with the last 2 seasons of players that can operate at DMC, MC or AMC that played more than 1200 minutes. There are 1703 unique seasons from 1007 unique players like this.


All stats are per 90 minutes. This is amazing. Naby is hitting around 80–95 percentile for almost every attribute we are considering. For example, his 0.28 goals per game are at the 95 percentile, which means that they were better than 95 % of the seasons in the database.


First, let’s try clustering midfielders’ seasons using Hierarchical Clustering based on the offensive and defensive stats showed before:

As expected, Naby is clustered with different types of midfielders with a prevalence of players that had very complete seasons with good offensive and defensive stats. It’s nice to see Mahmoud Dahoud two seasons showing up: he was Liverpool’s main midfielder target last season and has now moved to Borussia Dortmund.

Our second attempt at finding similar players to Naby involves using his output as thresholds and seeing which players pass the filter. I suspect it’s going to be very difficult to find someone that was so dominant in so many aspects of the game. So, let’s start:

First attempt: Naby’s stats as thresholds ….. no player comes up !

Second attempt: let’s eliminate his ridiculously high dribbles threshold … nope !

Third attempt: now let’s relax his defensive thresholds by 50 % … nope ! .. Ok. Let’s completely relax his defensive thresholds … FINALLY !

Fourth attempt: Ok, so after eliminating his dribbles and defensive stats thresholds we see that only really attacking minded players had seasons with better offensive numbers than him in all these metrics. Let’s set his defensive thresholds again but relaxing 10 % his interceptions (there are at 95 percentile) and now let’s eliminate his offensive thresholds.

See that only row full of green ? That’s Naby. That’s pretty cool.

As we can see, Naby is a unique midfielder. There is simply no other player that has this kind of impact on both sides of the game. Liverpool has been playing 4–3–3 and in the last games 4–3–1–2. He could be amazing at DMC, MC or AMC. MC is probably the optimal position, since you are benefiting the most from his outstanding defensive and offensive contribution.