Where Does Ryan Gravenberch Fit at Liverpool?

Ryan Gravenberch’s start to life at Liverpool has been a mixed one. A part of the Reds’ summer rebuild, coined Liverpool 2.0 by manager Jurgen Klopp, the Dutch international has demonstrated in spells his bags of potential but hasn’t quite yet fully lived up to expectations. So where and how does Gravenberch fit into this Liverpool side?


Liverpool’s Long Interest in Gravenberch


The current league leaders signed Gravenberch on deadline day from Bayern Munich in the summer window of 2023, having initially shown interest in signing him the year before from Ajax. 


The move to Bayern didn’t work out in the end and subsequently paved the way for the Reds to swoop in last year with a deal that suited all parties. The German Champions were offloading a player they didn’t want, for a profit as well, whilst Liverpool were getting a player that yes, they might have had cheaper a year earlier, but whose price was still deemed reasonable considering Gravenberch’s huge potential. 



Things Not Working at Bayern


The Liverpool midfielder joined the German giants whilst Julian Nagelsmann was in charge and finished the campaign with former Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel after Nagelsmann was sacked in March. Game time was hard to come by for Gravenberch under both, featuring in 24 league games, of which only three came from the start. It’s not abnormal for a young player to need time to adapt to a new league, country and playing style and to subsequently have their minutes limited, but it became obvious over time that the fit wasn’t quite right. 


Gravenberch’s reason for becoming surplus to requirements was explained by Tuchel upon the midfielder’s move to Liverpool: ‘’He’s a box-to-box midfielder for me, an attacking player. The main problem for him is that we don’t really play with a No.8 in our 4-2-3-1 system. He sees the chance in Liverpool to fight for a place as a No.8 in a 4-3-3.’’ 


Gravenberch’s Style of Play


Alongside positional details, a key reason it didn’t work out for Gravenberch at Bayern was largely down to playing style. Nagelsmann and Tuchel, despite having different approaches to its execution, are disciples of positional play. Control and structure are central to what each of them want from their teams.


Klopp’s philosophy is slightly different. Control and structure are not absent from Liverpool’s game but chaos is equally important. High-intensity gegenpressing mixed with a more direct offensive style suggests Gravenberch is much more suited to play at Anfield than he was in Bavaria. 


Player Analysis: Ryan Gravenberch


That is perhaps encapsulated most by looking at the Dutchman’s progressive carries. At Ajax, Gravenberch averaged 3.6 progressive carries per 90 minutes whilst at Liverpool, he is currently averaging 3.53. At Bayern it dropped drastically to 1.72. Whether that was by design or not is undetermined but it highlights how a key feature of Gravenberch’s game was not on show and subsequently, neither parties benefitted. 


Settling in at Liverpool


Despite Gravenberch’s apparent suitability to play for Klopp’s men, his settling-in period at Liverpool has been difficult although that is certainly understandable. The points made before about him needing to acclimatise to a new country and league when in Germany ring true again. It should also be noted that having arrived on deadline day, Liverpool’s Number 38 didn’t have a pre-season under Klopp which is such a key time to take on key tactical concepts as well as building up the required fitness to play in the high-intensity game that the German manager demands. It shouldn’t also be forgotten that Gravenberch is also still only 21 years old. 


Gravenberch’s commitment to the cause could not be criticised though as he rejected a national team call-up for the under-21s in early September to get his affairs in order following the move and to begin training with his new side as soon as possible. It was a choice that didn’t go down too well with Netherlands’ first-team coach Ronald Koeman, who admitted to holding a grudge about the former Ajax player’s decision, and subsequently ‘exiled’ him from the next set of internationals. That can’t have done Gravenberch’s confidence or welfare much good either. 


He would make his first start for Liverpool in the 3-1 win over LASK in the Europa League and the Dutchman excited, giving a glimpse of his talents and ended the game with an assist. He would go on to do the same in the Carabao Cup game against Leicester with the same result.


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A first league start would have to wait until October 21st but he didn’t have a huge impact on the game and that really sums up Gravenberch’s time at Anfield so far. In the Europa League and cup games, against arguably some weaker opposition, he has demonstrated his capabilities, but he hasn’t quite reached the level required regularly be called upon in the Premier League. He is yet to score in the league with all three of his goals and both of his assists have come in the cup competitions. 


Number 8


The good news for Gravenberch is that he is getting to play as a Number 8, just as Tuchel had alluded to upon letting him leave Bayern. What has to be considered though is the different roles the two Number 8s play at Liverpool, partially through the design of the system and partially through the profile of the players that operate there. 


Klopp’s first choice Number 8s thus far are arguably Curtis Jones and Dominik Szoboszlai. Jones, who operates on the left, acts as more of a facilitator in the midfield, connecting the play and taking up positions that allow the left back to overlap and the left winger to come inside, if those players are Andy Robertson and Luis Diaz.



On the right, with Trent Alexander-Arnold inverting and Mohamed Salah subsequently having to offer the width at times, Szoboszlai is much more involved in making runs into the right channel in order to exploit space and create chances in the final third.



These are all circumstantial of course based on opposition, the situation in the game and also injuries. The dynamic has changed when Joe Gomez has had to play at left back and when Conor Bradley has played on the right.


The triangles between wide player, full back and near side 8 operate differently on each side


In Gravenberch’s first few appearances, he appeared more effective when not playing with Szoboszlai. He seemed to struggle with the facilitator role and it is one that perhaps doesn’t best showcase his skills. 


There’s an interesting comparison that can be drawn between him and Curtis Jones though as Gravenberch demonstrates similar traits with Jones’ early Liverpool career in that he can be guilty of holding onto the ball too long and not choosing to release it when that is the better option. In the league, the Dutchman averages 1.6 successful dribbles per 90 which ranks him third in the Liverpool squad. His success rate is only at 43.8% however so he is attempting more than twice that per game. 

Compare that to someone like Jones, who averages fewer successful dribbles per 90 (1.2) but has a success rate of 60% shows he is more effective. The Liverpool academy graduate also possesses a pass accuracy of 90.8% compared to Gravenberch’s 82.4% in the league. Jones has been moulded into the perfect option for Klopp in that position but that came over a period of time; time that Gravenberch has not yet had.


On the face of it, the Dutchman is more of an offensive player and therefore his traits should be more comparable with Szoboszlai, but his output in the final third is way off that level currently.   


Possession Regains 


Where Gravenberch is proving to be quite effective is his ability to regain the ball. The counter-pressing that is so essential to Klopp teams was weakened last year with an ageing midfield that was unable to meet the manager’s demands. This year, with four new midfielders added to the squad, it has been reinvigorated and Gravenberch has been a part of that. 


Only Harvey Elliott has more final third regains per 90 than Gravenberch in the Premier League whilst only Elliott, Alexander-Arnold and Szoboszlai have more middle third regains than him. It should be noted that game state is important here. Gravenberch has made most of his appearances from the bench and is often brought into matches where opponents are tiring and more likely to make mistakes. It’s a key part of why Elliott also features highly in these stats. That shouldn’t take away though from how important both of them are and contributions like that from the bench can be game-changing.



Regaining possession isn’t the be all and end all of defending and Gravenberch still has some flaws in his pressing and positioning. Klopp appeared to be particularly critical of Gravenberch’s role in the build-up to Arsenal’s first goal in Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat in early February. It was an excellent goal from Arsenal and collectively, the Reds were poor throughout the game but it’s clear that Gravenberch has much still to learn on that side of his game.


The 21-year-old was not seemingly in line to start at Arsenal however news of Szoboszlai’s injury only came the day before and suddenly the young midfielder was thrust into a huge game against tough opposition. 


Injuries Mean More Game Time for Gravenberch


The fact that Liverpool continue to be decimated with injuries could mean more game time for Gravenberch. Alexander-Arnold and Szoboszlai were joined by goalkeeper Alisson on the treatment table prior to the Reds’ 4-1 win over Brentford. It was only to get worse during the match with both Jones and Diogo Jota having to leave the game early whilst Darwin Nunez was taken off at half time as a precaution.


Jones’ injury saw Gravenberch come on to replace him and the Dutchman had a positive impact on the game. He won six duels, the most of any Liverpool player and played a big part in the build-up to the second goal, winning the second ball from Wataro Endo’s headed interception, retaining it under pressure and laying it off to Salah who provided the assist. 


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It was another step in Gravenberch’s development but also comes at a vital time for the Reds as they battle on four fronts. With both injuries and fixtures piling up for Liverpool, Gravenberch could see his game time increase and if Klopp’s side are going to go deep into all competitions, they will need the quality from the depth of the squad. This feels like an important time for Gravenberch to step up and the signs from the Brentford game are that he can. 




Beyond a potentially heavy involvement at the end of this season, the future presents an interesting challenge for Gravenberch. If settling into a huge club like Bayern Munich was hard enough, it was only made tougher by having a manager come in midway through the season who didn’t see the youngster in his plans.


Liverpool’s Number 38 probably couldn’t believe it when he heard that for the second year in a row, the manager in charge when he joined a club wouldn’t be there come the end of the season following Klopp’s announcement over his end of the season departure. Playing for a manager willing to give him the chance to develop, as well as one suited to his own playing style, is exactly what Gravenberch’s career needed. 


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Considering the Reds are being heavily linked with Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso as Klopp’s successor, the future might have to get harder before it gets better for the Dutchman. Alonso is another manager whose side are built from the positional play ideology and are a much more controlled and intricate side than Klopp’s Liverpool. It’s much closer to what Gravenberch left behind in Germany and so, if Alonso is to be the new manager at Anfield, the Dutchman may have to adapt his game further to become a part of Liverpool’s longer future. 


Whatever happens, there’s no doubt that Ryan Gravenberch is an exceptional talent. He just needs to keep working to ensure he fits in to this Liverpool side.


By Jake Lakin / @ftblwriterjake

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Soccrates Images / Getty Images