It’s little over six months since Naby Keita officially split with RB Leipzig, but USA midfielder Tyler Adams is helping to fill the void.
In just a handful of games following his January move from New York Red Bulls, the fresh-faced forager has indicated he isn’t just a token rebound but potentially an upgrade on his Guinean predecessor.
Watch: Tyler Adams is loving life at RB Leipzig
The Keita years
Relationships are a fickle business. One minute you’re head over heels in love - the next you want to try something new. And so it proved with Keita. Swept off his feet by current Leipzig coach and sporting director Ralf Rangnick whilst in France with Istres, the Conakry native - via an impressive stint at Salzburg - set many a pulse racing in his two-season stint in the Bundesliga.
Keita helped himself to eight goals and eight assists as then Bundesliga first-timers Leipzig stormed to a runners-up finish in 2016/17. Fans, teammates and pundits alike swooned over the effervescent midfield dynamo, but the honeymoon period didn’t last. Keita had his head turned by a long-haired lover from Liverpool and, in August 2017, signed a pre-contract agreement to link up with Jürgen Klopp at the end of the 2017/18 campaign.
New York, New York
Happily, Rangnick has never been one to wallow. Shortly after taking interim charge of first-team duties following a parting of ways with Ralph Hasenhüttl, the business-like 60-year-old took a bite out of the Big Apple. Jesse Marsch was brought in as assistant coach from New York Red Bulls, and it wasn’t long before rumours started to swirl of a possible move for the American tactician’s former protege, Adams.
Having joined the Red Bulls academy aged 12, Adams was already playing with the U17s at 15. Those formative years also included a two-week trip to the team’s sister clubs in Leipzig and Salzburg. He lodged with the Leipzig academy players and trained with the U19s, playing in a few friendlies. As his New York team- and roommate Sean Davis recalled in The Guardian: "I think that’s when Tyler fell in love there."
Adams returned to New York with his heart, according to those closest to him, set on a future transfer to Leipzig. Three years and over 60 MLS appearances later, he got his wish. In September 2018, the Bundesliga club announced a deal to bring the nine-time USA senior international to the Red Bull Arena upon the opening of the January transfer window, with Rangnick teasing: "He’ll be an immediate option for the midfield."
Adams makes a splash
The Leipizig boss wasn’t spouting empty promises either. Adams was handed the keys to the midfield in the Saxony outfit’s second game back after the winter break, winning hearts and minds with an uncompromising debut display. Playing the full 90 minutes of the 4-0 triumph at Fortuna Düsseldorf, the 20-year-old covered more ground (7.28 miles), made more intensive runs (97) and won more tackles (17) than anyone else on the pitch. He also enjoyed 64 touches of the ball – the fourth most of any of his Leipzig teammates - and completed 81 per cent of all his passes. But that was just a taster.
Adams has since made a further four appearances in all competitions at the base of the Leipzig midfield, and is already outdoing contemporaries Diego Demme and Kevin Kampl, as well as previous Leipzig standard-bearer Keita, in terms of defensive dog work. He leads all three for tackles won - notably averaging 60.0 per cent to Keita’s 29.5 per cent aerially (he’s 5’9”!) - and is on another level to all three for industry with 34.5 sprint attempts per game. The American also does a mean box-to-box as evidenced by his smart assist for Yussuf Poulsen in the 3-1 win over VfB Stuttgart on Matchday 22.
"I think that his mentality along with his physical gifts will give him a really good opportunity to establish himself early in his time here," Marsch said somewhat prophetically of the US terrier at the turn of the year. "He's been here before, he knows the football, he's watched the team a lot. He knows the personality of it, he knows the league and now his former head coach is here as an assistant coach. I can't imagine a better situation."
Watch: Relive Tyler Adams' Bundesliga debut
There’s clearly a whole lot of love at Leipzig for Adams, and it wouldn’t be too wide of the mark to suggest they are a match made in heaven. Leipzig play the high-pressing style Adams became so accustomed at New York, and he does his bit, foraging for possession and redistributing the ball with a youthful insouciance not seen since the days of Keita.
Admittedly, the comparison with Keita is not perfect. Adams patrols the midfield and does the dirty work. He doesn’t drive from deep - at least not as frequently - as the now Liverpool man. They are different players, but they are on the same path – with one notable deviation. Leipzig are very much the apple of Adams’ eye.