Needless criticism of Ryan Gravenberch is no help to anyone

As soon as rumours emerged of Dominik Szoboszlai being ruled out of Liverpool's gargantuan clash with Arsenal on Sunday, there was reason for concern.

The Hungarian has been an outstanding signing since coming in from RB Leipzig last summer, and his physicality, pressing ability and technical class were all badly needed at the Emirates.

What was also clear was that Ryan Gravenberch would immediately be in the firing line when he was named in Liverpool's starting lineup, with the Dutchman the current whipping boy amongst some fans.

We can't just like every player, can we? There always has to be at least one who isn't flavour of the month, even when the Reds are going for a quadruple!

What followed was a disappointing performance from Gravenberch, with Arsenal's midfield getting the better of him, Alexis Mac Allister and Curtis Jones.

There was nowhere near enough influence on show from him, even though the 21-year-old did play a role in Liverpool's equaliser, clipping an intelligent pass in behind to Luis Diaz, but that was about all he offered.

Gravenberch didn't make a single tackle against Arsenal, also only winning 50% of his ground duels and 33% of his aerial battles, and no interceptions came his way. His substitution before the hour mark came as no surprise.

He was poor, but that was the case with so many in north London, not least two of the greatest Liverpool players of this era in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk. Their mix-up for Gabriel Martinelli's goal is one we never want to rewatch.

Football - FA Premier League - Arsenal FC v Liverpool FC LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 4, 2024: Liverpool s goalkeeper Alisson Becker and captain Virgil van Dijk react as their mistake leads to Arsenal s second goal during the FA Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda LONDON Emirates Stadium GREATER LONDON ENGLAND PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Copyright: xDavidxRawcliffex P2024-02-04-Arsenal_Liverpool-64

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ibrahima Konate were also well short of their best, with the former all at sea against Martinelli and the latter eventually sent-off to cap a clumsy performance, and Jones and Cody Gakpo were two other poor performers.

So why was Gravenberch seemingly receiving the most negativity after the game? And why aren't enough people defending him at the moment?

The former Ajax man has been Liverpool's least impressive signing out of the four made last year, but again, why does that have to be such an issue?

Szoboszlai has been a roaring success, Mac Allister has adapted to the No.6 role expertly, and Wataru Endo was in fantastic form before he departed to the Asia Cup.

Gravenberch has been more of a slow burn to date, but this is still a 21-year-old youngster we are talking about, not a seasoned professional who should be expected to hit the ground running.

He is younger than Jones and only a year older than Harvey Elliott, and it could be argued that his tall stature and generally mature features are working against him.

Fitting into and learning Jurgen Klopp's style of play is also an extremely difficult job for any player to master, and while the other new midfielders have outperformed Gravenberch to date, they have all still had bad games where they have struggled.

Football - Football League Cup - Semi-Final 1st Leg - Liverpool FC v Fulham FC LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 10, 2024: Liverpool s Ryan Gravenberch during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda LIVERPOOL Anfield MERSEYSIDE ENGLAND PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Copyright: xDavidxRawcliffex P2024-01-10-Liverpool_Fulham-35

Mac Allister was hooked at half-time away to Wolves, having looked like he was running through treacle, Szoboszlai dipped after a great start and Endo looked extremely limited in his first few outings.

Let's not forget how many great Liverpool signings took plenty of time to settle at Anfield, too, before hitting their stride and reaching their potential.

Andy Robertson spent a number of months behind Alberto Moreno in the left-back pecking order, finding it difficult to adapt to what his manager wanted from him, while Fabinho is another who looked completely off the pace for a while.

In fact, it was one performance early on in his Reds career at Arsenal that saw plenty of negativity come the Brazilian's way. Perhaps Gravenberch can use that as inspiration, considering the monstrous figure Fabinho grew into.

None of this means that Gravenberch should be immune to criticism, but the negativity needs to be more measured than hysterical, with such an overreaction no help to anybody.

This is a player who has been compared to Jude Bellingham in the past, with the pair seen as two of the outstanding young midfielders of their generation, and while his stock has fallen after a disappointing spell at Bayern Munich, the potential is there for all to see.

There have been moments of real class from Gravenberch this season, and it shouldn't be forgotten how effective his cameo was at Manchester City, helping turn the game and playing a key role in Alexander-Arnold's equaliser.

On current form, there is a noticeable drop-off between him and Szoboszlai, particularly when it comes to off-the-ball work โ€” 0.7 tackles per game compared to 1.4 โ€” but this is a young player who is still learning, rather than a new signing at the peak of his powers.

There were raised eyebrows when Liverpool signed Gravenberch, perhaps due to his aforementioned period at Bayern, but it feels increasingly as though many decided to write him off before he had even kicked a ball for the Reds.

Gravenberch hasn't earned a right to be in Klopp's strongest possible XI currently, but his first season on Merseyside has been better than many would have you believe, and he will be an important figure from now until May, as Liverpool look to excel across four different competitions.

The hope is that he matures as the years pass and reaches his potential under a new manager after Klopp. If he does that, the Reds could eventually have an absolute superstar in their ranks.

For now, though, we have to accept that Gravenberch isn't the finished article and that patience will be required with him.

That used to exist in football, but if a player isn't sensational every week, or doesn't adapt to a new team from the off, he is written off as yesterday's news.

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