Ryan Gravenberch is an immense talent. He’s been blessed by the footballing Gods in that he’s 6ft’ 3′, rangy, fast and possesses immense technical ability. He can beat a man from a stand-still via his skills or zoom straight past them because of his speed.
Remember that goal we scored at the Etihad earlier this season? Gravenberch ran past Rodri in the buildup. That just doesn’t happen very often.
It’s not an exaggeration to say he has the same kind of ability as Paul Pogba or Yaya Toure in central midfield. Someone whose huge frame simply doesn’t match up with their insane technical qualities.
But this combination only matters if a player accepts the physical is as important as the technical – and just as crucially – that the off the ball is as important as the on the ball.
Gravenberch’s pressure off the ball is at the moment, not good enough. He closes down because he’s been told to, not because he truly wants to. What’s more, he loses 50/50s against players who don’t have legs as long as his and shouldn’t have his strength. He’s lightweight. Wataru Endo is diminutive in size but brave and tireless off the ball and the difference between the two summer signings is noticeable.
There is no hiding in a Jurgen Klopp team, especially in midfield. When opponents have the ball, his midfielders need to be insanely disciplined, physical, hard-working and tactically smart. You cannot drift into positions in the hope your team-mates will cover for you. Not against good sides who break quickly, especially given our fullbacks are often out of defensive position further up the field.
Taki Minamino used to have this annoying habit of standing in a position where he couldn’t be passed to with the Reds in possession, and Gravenberch shares it.
You can see in the video below how angry Klopp was at the Dutchman for his lazy defensive work in the buildup to Arsenal’s goal on Sunday. It’s very lackadaisical.
Jurgen Klopp fuming at Ryan Gravenberch due to his lack of pressing in the lead up to Arsenal’s 1st goal.
— Charlie⚜️ (@CharlieeLFC) February 6, 2024
Not only is Gravenberch not causing opponents problems with his pressing, but his on-the-ball work is less exciting than maybe we should expect.
Andy Jones, in the Athletic, writes:
“The biggest difference between Gravenberch and his team-mates lies in possession. Compared to the other midfielders, Gravenberch’s successful passes per 90 (33.1) is over 13 fewer than the second-lowest (Harvey Elliott, 47), with the rest above 50. Unsurprisingly, his successful passes in the opposition half are also the lowest (22.4), seven fewer than Endo (29.6).”
To put simply, he doesn’t get on the ball as much as the others, which has led to suggestions he hides in games, but he also isn’t getting on it in the right areas. He does have three goals, although none in the Premier League.
In fairness, this is a 21-year-old kid we’re analysing. And it’s his first season in England having signed on deadline day back in the summer, therefore missing the summer to adapt to Klopp’s methods.
He was better in his early games, but this often happens to Klopp’s technical midfielders. At first they play naturally, but once they try to learn all his tactical demands they lose their spark for a bit. The same happened to Naby Keita and to some extent, Dom Szoboszlai.
“Sometimes he looks brilliant but he doesn’t get involved enough in the games. But that’ll come, he’s only young. He’ll get nurtured into that with coaching,” John Aldridge told the Echo, and he’s right.
It’ll be interesting to see how Gravenberch adapts to a new manager. The player has importantly had Klopp’s trust and the German is loyal to players – giving them lots of time to settle and establish themselves. There’s an argument to suggests it’s been to his detriment, at points.
But a new boss might not appreciate the midfielder’s traits, especially when we have a plethora of young, talented players competing for three of maybe even two spots.
Xabi Alonso plays short-passing, possession football. Gravenberch might suit this, given the quickness of his feet and his ability in tight areas.
The Spaniard is the main candidate right now so it would be silly to hypothesise too much on others.
Gravenberch though needs to improve until the end of the season if he’s to get regular chances. Klopp will keep using him in the cups as we’re in four competitions, but if he’s to be a Premier League player, we need more contributions on the ball and off it. Up the physicality, up the intensity and up the concentration.
He’s by no means a write-off, however. His talent is huge and his mistakes are explainable.
We’re still backing him to come good. But right now, a step-up is required.