RB Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick has admitted that the club face an uphill battle in to retain the services of highly-rated midfielder and noted Liverpool target Naby Keita beyond the summer of 2018.

Keita became Jurgen Klopp's priority transfer target following the addition of pacey winger Mohamed Salah from AS Roma, with Liverpool seeing club-record offers of £57m ($74.1m) and £66m rejected before reports suggested they were plotting a third bid worth £77m.

Surprise 2016-17 Bundesliga runners-up Leipzig's cast-iron refusal to sanction the exit of Keita or indeed any other key performers before their maiden foray into the Champions League eventually led to suggestions that Liverpool would temporarily abandon their chase.

They are expected to resume their attempts to sign the player next year, when the €50m (£45m) buyout clause in his current contract becomes active.

Leipzig are understandably eager to offer a fresh deal that would see such an option removed, although Rangnick has already cast doubt on the possibility of any early agreement.

Addressing Keita's situation again this week, he acknowledged that an impressive second campaign in German football would likely attract further interest in the former Istres and Red Bull Salzburg prospect at a time when his club's position would be significantly weakened by that aforementioned clause.

"Next season, Keita theoretically has the option to leave," he told Bild. "I'd like to think that he will play another strong season, also in the Champions League, and then there will be big clubs who are interested in him. Therefore it will presumably be pretty tough to keep him here."

Inter Milan were said to be ready to hijack Liverpool's move for Keita last month, while the player himself previously mentioned Manchester City alongside La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid on a list of "very big clubs" that he aspires to play for further down the line.

Mixed transfer window

Liverpool have endured a very mixed summer transfer window to date, with Salah joined at Anfield by England Under-20 World Cup star Dominic Solanke and former Hull City left-back Andrew Robertson.

In addition to failing to land Keita, the Reds' attempts to lure Virgil van Dijk to Merseyside appeared to end in embarrassment in June when they declared that their interest was over. They also issued a grovelling apology for any "misunderstanding" amid suggestions that Southampton were poised to report them to the Premier League over an alleged illegal approach.

However, that particular pursuit could yet be revived with Van Dijk, who is said to favour a move to Liverpool despite links to Chelsea and Manchester City, sent to train on his own after attempts to force through an exit by going public with his decision to submit an official transfer request.

Meanwhile, Liverpool, as with Leipzig and Keita, are remaining firm in their stance that influential Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho is not for sale after rejecting a second bid from long-term suitors Barcelona said to be valued at £90m.

Naby Keita
Jurgen Klopp is a big admirer of RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita Getty Images