Loaned out Serbian midfielder Marko Grujic could be given an opportunity to stake a claim at Liverpool next season after the end of his second loan spell in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin.
That is according to The Athletic’s James Pearce, who writes that manager Jurgen Klopp has been impressed with the 23 year old’s performances with Hertha.
The former Cardiff City loanee made such an impression in the German capital in his first loan spell at the Olympiastadion, that the club’s then manager, Pal Dardai, described the rangy Serb as “by far the best midfielder at the club in the last 20 years”.
“I’ve been at Hertha for 22 years,” said Dardai, 42, at a press conference last season. “This isn’t meant as an insult to anyone else, but Marko is by far the best midfielder I’ve seen in my time at the club.”
“I was a defensive midfielder and managed to score 17 goals, which isn’t bad. But Marko carries much more of a goal threat, he’s got a sensational shot on him and is much better than I was. He can play anywhere in midfield”, Dardai continued.
The versatility that Dardai highlighted could be key to Grujic getting and taking his chance at Anfield.
The most expensive midfield signings to arrive at Liverpool during Klopp’s tenure, Georginio Wijnaldum, Naby Keita and Fabinho, have all shared a common trait; versatility.
The former Borussia Dortmund coach once famously noted that “Gegenpressing is the best playmaker” and this is a maxim that informs the German’s tactics and his purchases in the transfer market.
The rationale is simple, don’t delegate playmaking or defensive responsibility to a singular player — that is too much responsibility to bare and opposition stopping that player could stop the team — but spread it across the midfield and mitigate the risk of predictability.
Wijnaldum, with the exception of goalkeeper, has played everywhere for the Reds and his universality and tactical intelligence are attributes that are valued highly at Anfield.
Similarly, Fabinho has played away from his usual deepest midfield station and has featured at centre half during his stint in England’s north-west so far. The Brazilian international has mostly played as a right back for his country; showcasing his ability to just about play anywhere.
Although his introduction to English football has been hampered by injuries, Keita has played in a midfield two, an engine room trio and off the left hand side of a 4231 for Liverpool.
Last season, Grujic shone in an all action box to box midfield role. The Red Star Belgrade academy product notched five league goals and laid on one assist as Hertha finished 11th in the Bundesliga.
The season before, 17/18, the 6’3″ powerhouse was an integral part of Cardiff City’s promotion to the Premier League, playing the season as a defensive midfielder for the Bluebirds. Neil Warnock was desperate to retain services of Grujic the next season, but the Serb opted for Germany.
Grujic has carried his impressive form into this season for the Die Alte Dame, even with Dardai — who was so effusive in his praise of the youngster — being replaced as manager by Croat Ante Covic.
This term, the Serbian international has contributed two goals in five appearances. The most notable of his strikes came against Bayern Munich in a 2-2 draw at the Allianz Arena in August.
Powerfully bursting into space and running behind Bayern’s defence, Grujic calmly, and almost balletically, rounded Manuel Neuer to score.
To see such nimble footwork from a player his size is memorable and whet the appetite of many Liverpool fans. With James Milner and Adam Lallana approach the end of their deals with the Reds, many fans would like to see Grujic given an opportunity with the six times European Champions next season.
Whether the Serb will give a chance remains to be seen, but if he is deemed surplus to requirements at Anfield then the club will easily make far more than €6,000,000 Liverpool paid Red Star for his signature in 2016.
However, you dice it up — whether as an avenue to transfer profit or establishing himself as a bona fide first team option — Liverpool will do well from Marko Grujic.