Gravenberch’s Struggles in Germany
What on earth made Bayern Munich so willing to allow Ryan Gravenberch to leave during the summer?
That is a question so many of us have posed in recent months, with the Dutchman a player of enormous potential, even being compared to Jude Bellingham, in terms of his future ceiling.
The 21-year-old’s time in Germany didn’t work out – only three Bundesliga starts came his way last season – and it was a 12-month period that saw his stock fall.
Jurgen Klopp felt that Gravenberch was worth taking a punt on, however, and he duly snapped him up, making him a key part of his summer midfield rebuild.
At the time, there was plenty of excitement about the midfielder’s arrival, but others were wary about the signing, despite the natural ability in his boots.
Early Promise Shadowed by Defensive Flaws
A perceived attitude problem, coupled with questionable defensive work, were seen as the reasons for this, but Gravenberch charmed us all with some eye-catching early performances, chipping in with two goals and an assist, not to mention some dazzling dribbles.
In these past few weeks, though, that potentially weak side of the Netherlands international’s game has started to show signs of coming to the fore, and it has culminated in some unconvincing Liverpool performances.
He played 83 minutes of the 4-3 win at home to Fulham, when too often he was guilty of not sticking to his off-the-ball duties enough, not least when the Cottagers went 3-2 up, as he lazily attempted to run back when the visitors counter-attacked.
In last Saturday’s equally below-par but ultimately dramatic 2-1 triumph away to Crystal Palace, Gravenberch was similarly disappointing overall, not stamping his authority on proceedings whatsoever.
He wasn’t alone, as has been the case a lot with individuals during the winter period – matches come thick and fast, and team performances can often lack quality and rhythm – but there was a lack of defensive quality from him that stood out more than fellow middle men Wataru Endo and Dominik Szoboszlai.
He made no tackles, interceptions or clearances at Selhurst Park, and won only two out of six ground duels. Endo came out on top in four ground duels and Szoboszlai won two tackles, and while they were also below-par on the day, they still offered more.
Overall this season, no Liverpool central midfielder has a lower tally than his total of 0.6 tackles per game – Endo admittedly has the same, which is a surprise, given his supposed tenacious nature – and he hasn’t won a single aerial duel, which is damning.
Jones vs. Gravenberch: A Tactical Analysis
There have been some calling for Gravenberch to be more of a mainstay in the team than Curtis Jones, but while the former is the more flamboyant, game-changing player, the latter makes Liverpool more solid.
Jones has completed 91.9% of his passes across eight Premier League appearances, whereas Gravenberch only has a completion rate of 82% in his 11 outings in the competition to date.
Much like Gini Wijnaldum before him, Jones is press-resistant and understated, knitting things together and also proving to be subtly effective out of possession, covering ground and never neglecting defensive duties.
On the flip side, Gravenberch is more of a risk-taker, and although it will pay off spectacularly at times, Liverpool will feel more open and unpredictable with him playing, particularly during these early days in his Reds career.
None of this is to say that there should be any real concern about Gravenberch – more that he still needs to be considered a work in progress for the time being, adjusting to Klopp’s demands.
The talent is there for all to see and he has enjoyed some excellent performances, not least away to Man City, when he helped change the game from the substitutes’ bench.
Gravenberch is still so young, so there is no reason why shouldn’t improve immeasurably, and he is working under the perfect manager to get the best out of him.
There are niggling concerns creeping in about his all-round application, however, which is only natural after failing to make it at Bayern for potentially similar reasons, and improvements need to be made defensively to be considered a regular starter.