Ryan Gravenberch whets the appetite with brilliant Liverpool derby display

Of all Liverpool’s summer midfield transfer targets, Ryan Gravenberch seemed to be the one that was furthest from universally popular.

In fact, some were even fervently against a move to Anfield coming to fruition.

The Dutchman’s stock had been extremely high during his Ajax days, with he and Jude Bellingham arguably seen as the standout young midfielders of their generation, but a switch to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2022 didn’t go to plan.

Gravenberch had to accept nothing more than a bit-part role during his solitary year in Germany, starting just three Bundesliga matches, highlighting his lack of opportunities.

READ MORE: Why Ryan Gravenberch makes more sense than a traditional number six signing

Admittedly, he still came on as a substitute 21 times in the competition, but he never managed to fully convince at the Allianz Arena. There appeared to be doubts over his attitude, and it was made clear that he was welcome to leave the club earlier this year.

For that reason, when Liverpool announced the signing of the 21-year-old back in early September, there wasn’t the same level of positivity that met the arrivals of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, both of whom were heralded as fantastic additions.

Some deemed it a risky decision that could backfire, others felt Gravenberch's style of play wasn’t necessarily suited to Jurgen Klopp’s, and there were also plenty who claimed that another 'number eight' wasn’t what the squad needed.

There was certainly truth in the latter argument, and Liverpool do still look slightly open and imbalanced with Mac Allister anchoring things in the middle of the park, but there is still no doubt that the midfield revamp has been a big success so far.

Having had to bide his time to begin with in terms of minutes, Gravenberch is now starting to purr in a Liverpool shirt, and his performance in the 2-0 win over Everton on Saturday was one to get excited about.

The Reds were never close to their best against their local rivals, but come the final whistle, their newest signing was a strong Man-of-the-Match contender.

READ MORE: Liverpool 2-0 Everton – Player Ratings

Handed his first-ever Premier League start, Gravenberch made the most of Curtis Jones’ suspension and produced a superb first-half performance – one that was brimming with natural ability and intelligence.

Gravenberch looked so at home in the left-sided midfield role, displaying quick feet in tight areas, making good decisions on the ball and also covering ground in a way that others failed to so spectacularly last season.

From having to watch Fabinho and Jordan Henderson toil away and be outrun by opponents week in, week out, Liverpool now have tall, athletic individuals in midfield who can dominate in and out of possession.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 5, 2023: Liverpool's Ryan Gravenberch (L) celebrates with team-mate Harvey Elliott after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 2 game between Liverpool FC and Union SG at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Incredibly, Gravenberch completed 97% of his passes at home to Everton, which takes some doing in any game, let alone a frenetic Merseyside derby and a fixture you have never played in before, and he made three interceptions and one tackle for good measure.

There was also the small matter of winning five or his seven ground duels against the Blues, and he was fouled on three occasions, as the visitors found it hard to handle him.

Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay Gravenberch is that he even outshone the magnificent Szoboszlai in the opening 45 minutes, which no other Liverpool midfielder has done so far this season. Every time he had the ball, there was a fizz of excitement and expectation in the air.

In fairness, he faded a little after the break, which was no great surprise – how good was Harvey Elliott off the bench again, by the way? – but this was his most eye-catching showing in a Liverpool shirt to date.

READ MORE: 5 talking points from Liverpool's Merseyside Derby win

There is a reason why Klopp was so keen on signing Gravenberch, even when the social media ‘experts’ were telling him not to, and it seems clear that Liverpool have a special signing in their ranks – one who just needs to be fine-tuned by the right manager.

If his attitude and temperament were questioned at Bayern, there are no signs of them being an issue at the moment, and in Klopp, he couldn’t have a better boss when it comes to getting the best out of him.

All the raw ingredients are there for Gravenberch to mature into a stunning footballer, and ultimately, the only person who could prevent him from reaching his potential is himself.

Because of his height and general stature, it is easy to forget that he is just 21 years of age – just 11 months older than Elliott – so there is so much time for him to master his trade and become the complete package over the next decade or so.

Ryan Gravenberch, ProShots

Granted, there is no guarantee that he will walk into Liverpool’s team every week, with Jones a key man before his red card at Tottenham, Mac Allister possibly moving further up the pitch at some point and Elliott also pushing for more regular playing time.

But what we saw at Anfield over the weekend was a player oozing class and with all the technical and physical attributes to excel for the Reds, making up a quality-laden new-look midfield and hopefully remaining on Merseyside for years to come.

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It is still early days, and there are further improvements to be made, whether that be tactically or fitness-wise, but Liverpool may well have acquired yet another gem to add to their collection of inspired signings.

The fact that former Netherlands ace Rafael Van Der Vaart recently claimed that Gravenberch is 'better' than Bellingham in 'everything' he does only whets the appetite even more.

That may be hyperbole but one thing is certain: those dissenting voices during the summer are now becoming quieter by the week.

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