Jurgen Klopp has made clear Naby Keita remains part of his long-term plans at Liverpool, despite the midfielder enduring another stop-start season at the club.

Injuries have hampered Keita ever since he joined from RB Leipzig. The Reds showed patience to finally get one of their primary transfer targets, completing a deal in August 2017 that saw the player spend one final season in Germany before heading to Anfield.

There have been flashes of his obvious talent since arriving, but Keita has seemingly been stuck in a frustrating cycle of fleetingly good moments followed by spells out of the team.

This campaign has been no different: Keita has made just nine starts in all competitions, the last of them coming in a 3-1 Champions League defeat at Real Madrid that saw the Guinea international substituted before half-time.

"It was not about Naby, but I did it and now I'm not happy about it because we talk like it's Naby's responsibility. It was not. It was tactical," Klopp said about the change.

The German coach has not started the talented 26-year-old since, a decision he revealed ahead of Sunday's clash with Manchester United was due to the need for stability in selection, particularly with the upheaval in defence.

With Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all out, there has been a rotation of different options used at the heart of the back four, including midfield duo Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, who is now sidelined himself.

"A lot of things have been tricky this year. We've had to change so often and then you have to in the moment try and go for stability, that's what we really need," Klopp told reporters while previewing the trip to Old Trafford.

"For example, take Manchester United, where the last line [of defence] has played together for nearly 20 games now. Then you can make changes everywhere because you have a proper base.

"We never had that. On top of that, making two or three changes in midfield just doesn't work out. People say to try it, and I would if I could only be nearly sure that it would work out, but you need stability in a football team.

"Other teams are just too good for you to make eight or nine changes. That has hit a few players this year, some of them have been injured and coming back."

Keita has played 683 minutes in all competitions this season. There have been just seven league starts, and in five of those he was taken off.

A positive coronavirus test in October forced him to isolate, while thigh and knee injuries have kept him away from the first team too.

There been no goal involvements amid such limited opportunities, but he has created 10 chances at an average of 1.32 per 90 minutes, a rate just below regular Roberto Firmino (1.38) and better than both Diogo Jota (1.06) and Curtis Jones (0.88), two potential rivals for spots in the first XI.

Circumstances outside his control have worked against him, but Klopp has no intention of seeing the Liverpool cut their losses with Keita, who was a club-record signing at the time his move was confirmed.

"Naby trains really well, I have to say. Really well. Like a lot of other players, he looks really good in training," the Liverpool boss said.

"But this year we need stability. We will make changes from time to time, definitely, but it's not like we can take out seven, eight or nine players to change and say maybe we can win like this.

"The long-term future of Naby Keita, from my point of view, is here."

Jurgen Klopp selected Diogo Jota in attack and dropped Roberto Firmino to the bench for Liverpool's Champions League quarter-final first leg at Real Madrid.

Jota came on with the game goalless and netted a brace in Saturday's 3-0 Premier League win at Arsenal.

Although Firmino was initially on the field along with Jota, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Emirates Stadium, the Brazil forward had to be content with a place on the bench in the Spanish capital.

Jota's brace took him up to 12 goals for the campaign in his debut season at Anfield, level with Mane and double Firmino's six, despite injury restricting him to 1,269 minutes on the field.

Firmino has played 2,661 minutes, meaning he averages a goal every 443.5 minutes, with Jota's one per 105.75 minutes the best ratio among all of Liverpool's forwards. Salah's 26 goals in 2020-21 have arrived at one every 128.7 minutes.

Naby Keita has endured another injury-impacted season with the Reds, but Klopp gave him the nod in midfield alongside Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum, with ex-Barcelona man Thiago Alcantara among the substitutes.

Liverpool were set to confront a patched-up Real Madrid back four in a rematch of the 2018 final, with Raphael Varane's positive COVID-19 diagnosis putting him on the sidelines with skipper Sergio Ramos and right-back Dani Carvajal.

Lucas Vazquez, Nacho and Eder Militao were chosen as the men to step in alongside first-choice left-back Ferland Mendy.

Naby Keita may make his Liverpool return in Saturday's Merseyside derby but Fabinho remains absent against Everton.

Guinea midfielder Keita has not featured since the Reds' 7-0 mauling of Crystal Palace on December 19 due to an ankle injury but was back in training this week.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will take another check on Keita before the meeting with the Toffees at Anfield, though the German confirmed Fabinho – who missed the Premier League loss to Leicester City and Champions League win over RB Leipzig with a muscular issue – will sit out again, meaning captain Jordan Henderson is likely to partner Ozan Kabak once more in defence.

"Naby trained yesterday with the team, so we have to see what we make of it," Klopp told a news conference.

"Fab was not in training, all the others not as well. Nothing new.

"They all get closer – Fab gets closer, Millie [James Milner] gets closer and Diogo [Jota] gets closer, but not close enough for the weekend."

Klopp explained Keita could have been in contention to face former club Leipzig in midweek, a Champions League last-16 first-leg match played in Budapest that Liverpool won 2-0, only for illness to interrupt his recovery.

"Naby could have been in the squad against Leipzig, but it didn't make sense because he'd only trained two days with the team. So, we said stay at home, train two days of proper training sessions, but unfortunately Naby got ill a little bit and couldn't train these two days," he added.

"Yesterday we reintegrated him again. I just don't know, but we don't hold him back or whatever. Of course, after the injuries he had, we don't want to force him in or something like that, but it would be nice to have him.

"Is he able to play a few minutes on Saturday? I don't know. If he's not, if we speak about it and it's better to rather not play a few minutes then it is better to stay away from the team and just train proper, proper.

"Being around, on the bench, are not the most intense things and he needs to get used to the intensity again. No decision made yet, but he is not injured anymore and now we have to figure out how fit he is to play how many minutes."

For Naby Keita, Liverpool's Champions League tie with RB Leipzig could have offered a chance to show his old club what they are missing.

Travel restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic have blocked the first leg from taking place in Germany, so Budapest will instead stage the opening match of the last-16 showdown on Tuesday. Keita, however, will not be there.

Rather than head to the Hungarian capital with the rest of the squad, the Guinea international has remained back on Merseyside to continue his recovery from the latest injury setback in a Liverpool career that has flattered to deceive so far. 

There have been bright moments, occasional performances where he has demonstrated his class, but too often those high points have been followed by a prolonged spell on the sidelines.  

Keita made 43 league appearances in his first two years in England, but only 25 of them were starts. This season, there have been just seven outings, the last of them on December 19 in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, back when everything looked far rosier in Liverpool's garden.

Jurgen Klopp provided a positive fitness update on the midfielder ahead of the Leipzig game, revealing: "Naby is no longer injured but he's not fit yet".  A reunion with his former employers could still come at Anfield in the return fixture, albeit the German manager is not known for being sentimental when it comes to team selection.

Liverpool were patient in the first place just to get him; having failed to agree terms for his immediate transfer, they instead struck a deal with Leipzig to have him join 12 months later for, at the time, a club-record fee.

"Until I join my new club, next summer, I will remain an interested supporter from a distance," Keita said when the impending transfer was confirmed. Sadly, too often he has been stuck watching on since. There have been hamstring, thigh, groin and knee issues, plus a spell out after contracting COVID-19. It has felt like one step forward, two back.

Still, his two seasons at Leipzig – during which he contributed 14 goals and 12 assists in 58 Bundesliga games – demonstrated why Klopp was willing to wait. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of playing the killer pass when working in crowded spaces, he was seen as the ideal attacking threat that could lift the team to the next level. 

The Reds have duly raised their standards, but Keita has been a peripheral figure. He was ruled out of the Champions League final against Tottenham in July 2019 and, while he played – and scored – the night Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy just over 12 months later, it was one of only 14 starts in all competitions. 

His only other league goal during that title-winning campaign came at Bournemouth in the previous December, when he picked up possession in a pocket of space in front of the opposition defence, played a clever one-two with Mohamed Salah and then toe-poked the ball in.

Such moments of quality served to underline why he was identified and, eventually, signed. Liverpool have rarely made big-money mistakes in the transfer market, but Keita has yet to live up to the hefty fee, which covered his £48million release clause plus an undisclosed premium that sealed the deal. 

While seven goals and four assists in 45 starts is so far a disappointing return on that sizeable investment, exploring Keita's contributions in greater depth shows what he can produce when healthy.

No player who had over 20 dribble attempts for Liverpool in the 2019-20 league season had a better success rate than his 82.14 per cent, while his figure for big chances created per 90 minutes (0.55) was the best of the lot, too. Add in an average of 10.95 passes into the final third per 90 and you see the type of numbers that suggest he could have made a difference this term, particularly in games where Klopp's side have struggled so badly to break down opposing line-ups stuck in a low block.

There is still time to have a greater impact, of course, but rather than taking centre stage when Liverpool take on Leipzig, Keita is stuck as a spectator once again, a footnote to the storyline as the knockout stages of the competition begin.

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