Ryan Gravenberch is enjoying his start to life with Liverpool.
The 21-year-old midfielder was the match-winner against Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, reacting quickest to fire the ball into an empty goal after Anthony Moris failed to hold onto Trent Alexander-Arnold’s long-range effort.
Gravenberch now has a goal and two assists in his three starts for the Reds following his £34m deadline-day move from Bayern Munich.
With Curtis Jones now suspended for three Premier League matches, the Dutchman might get his first Premier League start over the next couple of weeks and people are excited to see what he can do alongside Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister in Liverpool’s first-choice midfield.
Manager Jurgen Klopp singled the number 38 out for praise after the game at Anfield against the Belgian side.
“I think it’s really obvious how good he is,” Klopp told reporters. “What a talent he is, he is enjoying the situation, enjoying himself. That’s very important.
“Gets step-by-step all the confidence back, that is really cool to see. He is in the middle of the group, fits really well to the age group of the majority of the squad. That is good. It’s only positive. We thought he might be able to play 90. We wanted to give him 90 minutes but then we saw he dropped a little bit and didn’t want to build any risk, so that’s why we brought on Dom (Dominik Szoboszlai) for a few minutes.”
Gravenberch has settled in well and looks readymade for the Liverpool midfield. But he’s put his stamp on the left-sided midfield three, and it makes his inclusion an intriguing one.
What I mean by this is he’s completely different to Curtis Jones.
The Scouse-born midfielder divides opinion but he was instrumental in Liverpool’s 17-match unbeaten run in the Premier League. He was the counterweight for the more creatively minded right side. He provided balance in the sense he was key in regaining and retaining possession, as detailed in our recent feature.
If you had to boil Jones down to two stats, it would be that the Liverpool number 17 regularly averaged over 50 passes per 90 and had a pass success rate of over 93%. He was heavily involved and he ensured the Reds kept hold of the ball.
He’s a facilitator. He allows and enables others to do their thing.
The same cannot be said for Gravenberch and this is what makes him and his role in the team so interesting.
What I mean by that is the Dutchman looks to make things happen himself.
Against USG on Thursday night, he had three shots and created two chances. The Ajax academy graduate attempted six dribbles – the most of any player on the pitch – and was successful with two.
It was the same sort of story against both LASK and Leicester City. Against the Austrian side, Gravenberch attempted five dribbles, the third highest of the game behind Darwin Nunez (eight) and Ben Doak (seven). Against the Foxes in the Carabao Cup, only Diogo Jota (seven) attempted more dribbles than Gravenberch.
The 6ft 3in Dutch maestro played seven key passes across those two outings. For context here, Gravenberch recorded the highest number of shot assists in both matches.
He really does impact things in the final third. A consequence of this is that he’s a little loose in possession. The riskier the pass, the greater the chance of a turnover.
Against USG, Gravenberch attempted 35 passes during his 79 minutes on the pitch. He completed just 80% of those. Against Leicester, he attempted 25 passes and was successful with 84% and in the win over LASK, the versatile midfielder attempted 33 passes and found a teammate with 70% of those.
Averaging it out, the 21-year-old averages 31 passes per start and is successful with 78%. His numbers aren’t anywhere near those posted by Jones. The big caveat here is that Gravenberch is playing in a much-rotated XI. But it could point towards Klopp wanting different profiles for the same position, similar in a way to how he has options at centre-forward.
If Liverpool want to retain possession, Jones might be the guy for the left-sided midfield role. If the Reds want to be a little more creative and have more of an attacking threat on both sides of the midfield, Gravenberch would likely get the nod. The depth in this squad now means Klopp has a number of horses-for-courses type options across the team.