RB Leipzig have said they will not consider selling Naby Keita to Liverpool during the winter transfer window.
In the summer, Liverpool announced an agreement to sign Keita at the end of the current season and there has been speculation that Leipzig could be persuaded to part with the Guinea international in January.
However, Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick — who said last month that the midfielder would not have been sold but for his release clause — ruled out an early departure.
“Even if we should not reach the knockout stages of Champions League, it would make no sense to allow Naby to join Liverpool earlier,” Rangnick told Leipziger Volkszeitung. “We want to qualify for Europe again, and we need Naby for that.”
Leipzig, currently second in the Bundesliga, remain in contention to finish second in their Champions League group, with two games left to make up a two-point deficit on second-placed Porto, who hold the head-to-head advantage over the German club.
Keita, who rose to prominence last season after joining Leipzig from Red Bull Salzburg, would not be eligible to play for Liverpool in the Champions League if he were to make a January switch.
The 22-year-old, meanwhile, has endured a difficult period since the transfer to Liverpool was announced.
He was sent off three times in three competitions in the space of 39 days, and this week it was confirmed he had appealed against a penalty order for submitting a fake driver’s licence.
“We of course have Naby’s back,” Rangnick said, but refused to make further comments because of the current legal proceedings.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.