How would Ryan Gravenberch fit into the Liverpool midfield?

Sam McGuire
10 months ago

Ryan Gravenberch is threatening to rival Arda Turan and Simao as the player most linked with a move to Liverpool without actually making the move. 

The Bayern Munich midfielder is reportedly once again on Jurgen Klopp’s radar with the Reds looking to continue their middle third revamp. According to outlets in Germany, the 21-year-old isn’t in Thomas Tuchel’s plans for the season and he’s failed to make it off of the bench in the last two matches for the Bundesliga champions.  

While there had been reports earlier in the summer that the club wanted to keep hold of the Netherlands international, their stance appears to have softened and if a reasonable bid is made for the former Ajax man, it would be assessed. 

Uncertain future

Back in June, The Redmen TV had Sport1 journalist Kerry Hau on as a guest. He detailed exactly what was going on between the club and the player. 

“It was a difficult season for Bayern and for Gravenberch. It is kind of complicated if you come from the Netherlands to Germany. Find new friends, learn the language and settle in the dressing room. Gravenberch didn’t have the trust of Julian Nagelsmann. When he played, he didn’t show the confidence he actually has.

“He started some games as a number eight but was also subbed in for Jamal Musiala as a number 10 because he wasn’t defending very well, so he wasn’t trusted deeper on the pitch. Nagelsmann wasn’t happy with Gravenberch’s defensive work.”

Gravenberch’s future has been uncertain for quite some time now and it could be tied to what happened behind the scenes. 

“His future is uncertain following the departure of Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidzic. He was a Salihamidzic player.

“Gravenberch’s representatives spoke with Liverpool in February and he’s very interested. Bayern promised he would get opportunities with the first team and they’d help him go to the World Cup with the Netherlands. They didn’t and he wasn’t a starter in Qatar. He isn’t happy in Munich.”

Positional purgatory

The Bayern number 38 has always been something of a divisive player. In truth, he’s a bit of an enigma. I don’t think anyone, himself included, knows what his best role is yet.

Fluidity is key in the modern game but then there comes a point where a player becomes homeless because they haven’t been given a set role or position to really make their own.

Gravenberch is on the brink of finding himself in purgatory. But he’s still young, so it is quite an easy fix under the right manager.

At Ajax during the 2020/21 season, he looked like a final-third sort of player. But then was that because of the midfielders he was playing alongside?

For example, the Dutch giants had Daley Blind and Edson Alvarez battling it out for the anchor role in midfield and then it was Davvy Klaassen playing in a box-to-box sort of role. The following year, Steven Berghuis and Kenneth Taylor were added into the mix and Gravenberch would switch things up depending on who his midfield partners were. Sometimes he’d be a 'sitter' alongside a more defensive-minded midfielder, other times he’d push on.

He did look comfortable across the midfield.

When Liverpool faced off against Ajax in Amsterdam, Gravenberch was tasked with being the advanced midfielder. You can see the set-up in the above picture as the hosts look to play out from the back.

What I liked here is how Gravenberch doesn’t get drawn to the ball. He takes up an intelligent position in space and is able to pick up a pass from Klaassen. He then carries the ball into the space, with Ajax getting at the Liverpool defence.

The move eventually finishes with the Ajax number eight lashing a shot just wide of Adrian’s post. The young midfielder had carried the ball, played a nice pass to Quincy Promes and then followed the play so that he was in a position to pick up a pass on the edge of the area. These are good attacking instincts.

But do we want to shape his game around that, or use it as a nice-to-have? Personally, looking at the Liverpool squad right now, I’d opt for the latter. We have goal threats from midfield now in Dominik Szoboszlai, Cody Gakpo, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott. Furthermore, I’m not entirely convinced it gets the most out of Gravenberch anyway.

The new Wijnaldum?

The more I watch him, the more convinced I am that he’s a double-pivot player. 

He uses his body to retain possession, even in tight situations, in a way that is not too dissimilar to Gini Wijnaldum. Like a taller version of his compatriot. 

New Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel was specific with his praise the other week.

He said: “I see Ryan’s qualities in training. He’s doing well. He’s a midfielder who can turn and dribble very well. Now it’s about being patient. It’s about fighting to be there.”

He’s a great press reliever. He absorbs pressure and either beats a man or wins a foul. I kind of want to see him in the role adopted by Fabinho in this new system. Granted, he’d need some training to familiarise himself with that role given it is a lot more defensive than what he’s perhaps used to but he has the profile for it - good under pressure, composed, tidy in possession, tall (6ft 2in), athletic and deceptively quick.

Gravenberch isn’t as busy as previous players linked with a move to Merseyside like Romeo Lavia and Manu Kone, but perhaps Liverpool want someone deeper who isn’t chasing the ball but is instead looking to help control situations with their use of possession.

There might be something in those links but, all things considered, it would be a gamble and Liverpool have already taken a risk with Wataru Endo. 

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