Why is Ryan Gravenberch is struggling at Liverpool?


Rewind to November 25 and Ryan Gravenberch was gliding away from Rodri at the Etihad Stadium, beginning a move that resulted in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s equaliser against Manchester City.

It was one of the clearest glimpses of quality that the Dutch international possesses and showed why Jurgen Klopp was so keen to bring him to Anfield.

But it has not been plain sailing for the midfielder, who was signed on deadline day in the summer from Bayern Munich for £34million ($42.7m), and questions are now being asked about his recent performances.

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How Liverpool signed Gravenberch: Patience, family meetings – and Klopp

Gravenberch was far from the only one who struggled against Arsenal’s intensity, but his 24 touches in 58 minutes highlighted the lack of influence he had on the game. Post-match, Klopp pointed out the disjointedness of Liverpool’s right-hand side — which for so long has been a crucial triangle — with the trio of Gravenberch, Cody Gakpo and Trent Alexander-Arnold combining for the first time.

He did play a key role in Liverpool’s goal, with his ball in behind releasing Luis Diaz to battle with William Saliba, but there was little else that stood out.

Gravenberch is becoming the polarising figure in Liverpool’s squad. For some, the potential is obvious, with small signs of quality being the reason why big money was spent on him. For others, that is not enough, with more consistency being demanded; perhaps it is now understandable why Bayern were willing to let a youngster with so much potential leave.

So is there any reason to be overly concerned?


In 2018, Gravenberch burst onto the scene at Ajax, becoming the club’s youngest-ever player to play in the Eredivisie (16 years and 130 days), surpassing the record set by Clarence Seedorf. It can feel as if he has been around for a long time and therefore it can be forgotten he is still only 21. He remains in the early stages of his development and is years away from his peak. Inconsistency is almost guaranteed.

“Ryan is still the talent — (he’s) 21, we forget that always and he didn’t play much last year,” Klopp said recently. “He had outstanding performances where he was man of the match for us internally and other matches where you think, ‘Where was he today?’. (But) that is completely normal in development.”

He is not the first — but may end up being the last — of Klopp’s signings who have taken time to adapt. Andy Robertson and Fabinho are the most common examples.

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As with many of his team-mates, Gravenberch didn’t play well against Arsenal (Adrian Dennis / AFP)

Liverpool added four midfielders last summer, and the impressive starts of Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister haven’t helped his cause. Wataru Endo’s form before he left for the Asian Cup was also picking up.

While Mac Allister and Szoboszlai were June and July additions respectively, and therefore reaped the benefits of a pre-season under Klopp, both Endo and Gravenberch were signed after the season began.

Gravenberch arrived on September 1 with a lot to learn. Not only is central midfield arguably the toughest position to play under Klopp, but Gravenberch was coming off the back of a season at Bayern in which he made only three Bundesliga starts and only twice managed more than 45 minutes.

This was key to his decision to withdraw from the Netherlands Under-21 squad for the September internationals: he wanted to prioritise time on the training pitch with his new club’s coaching staff.

Endo’s settling-in period was far from smooth too. He has been substituted at half-time in four matches so far this season — although both instances against Union Saint-Gilloise felt pre-planned. Only recently had Endo come into form: ahead of the Asian Cup, he started eight consecutive games and looked to have found his feet in this Liverpool side.

Gravenberch has not had that opportunity yet. He has only started three consecutive games in a row once, and that came at the end of October in victories over Everton, Toulouse and Nottingham Forest. It looked as if he beginning to establish himself, but it didn’t continue.

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Gravenberch in this season’s Merseyside derby (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

Above all else, Klopp’s system requires immense pressing, and a criticism levelled at Gravenberch has been centred around his perceived work rate and intensity.

Compared to the other central midfielders who have operated most commonly in the No 8 role, Gravenberch has the lowest pressures per 90 in the Premier League (21.3), compared to Harvey Elliott (28.2), Szoboszlai (25.3) and Curtis Jones (22.6).

Players pressures 2023-24

PL 23/24 Mins Played Pressures Pressures Per 90

Harvey Elliott

517

162

28.2

Cody Gakpo

918

283

27.7

Dominik Szoboszlai

1662

467

25.3

Darwin Nunez

1331

366

24.7

Diogo Jota

918

242

23.7

Curtis Jones

835

210

22.6

Ryan Gravenberch

711

168

21.3

Wataru Endo

700

164

21.1

Mohamed Salah

1743

400

20.7

Luis Diaz

1405

303

19.4

Alexis Mac Allister

1377

277

18.1

Kostas Tsimikas

664

71

9.6

Andy Robertson

773

66

7.7

Joe Gomez

1171

99

7.6

Trent Alexander-Arnold

1580

108

6.2

Ibrahima Konate

1148

58

4.5

Joel Matip

783

38

4.4

Virgil van Dijk

1828

44

2.2

The number of pressures is only part of the puzzle, though: the effectiveness has to be taken into consideration. Klopp, for example, has repeatedly praised Jones for his pressing intensity, saying he “sets the levels”.

It comes more naturally to some than others. Take Darwin Nunez and Gakpo, who signed in June 2022 and January 2023 respectively. Within weeks, Gakpo appeared up to speed with the system and in tune with his team-mates. Nunez, however, took longer and found himself in a reduced role towards the end of the 2022-23 campaign as his adaptation continued. But this season it has clicked.

As explained in Michael Cox’s breakdown of Sunday’s game, Arsenal exploited Liverpool’s setup to create their opening goal. Gravenberch and Gakpo’s positioning allowed Arteta’s side to progress the ball easily down the flank, spreading their defensive shape.

Digging further into the underlying numbers helps paint a more detailed picture. In all competitions, Gravenberch has been involved in numerous midfield battles, with only Mac Allister (13.5) involved in more duels per 90 than Gravenberch (12.9). Mac Allister and Endo, however, have won more (6.9 and 5.8) than Gravenberch’s 5.7 per 90.

That said, Gravenberch has won the most out of Liverpool’s No 8s — although Harvey Elliott does have a better duel-success rate.

Liverpool’s midfield defensive metrics 2023-24

Player (per 90) Minutes Played Duels Duels Won Duel Success % Tackles Won Interceptions Poss won in final third

Dominik Szoboszlai

1943

9.7

4

41.2

0.9

0.7

1

Alexis Mac Allister

1786

13.5

6.9

51.3

1.7

1.2

0.7

Curtis Jones

1567

11.2

4.9

43.6

1

0.8

0.9

Harvey Elliott

1518

7.9

3.8

47.8

1.3

0.5

1.3

Ryan Gravenberch

1401

12.9

5.7

44.3

1.1

1.3

1.4

Wataru Endo

1287

12.8

5.8

45.4

1.3

1.4

0.8

The table above shows Gravenberch’s output is not dissimilar to his team-mates as he tops possession won in the final third (1.4), is second in interceptions (1.3) and fourth in tackles won (1.1).

For context, a good portion of his minutes have come in the Europa League. He started four group games, whereas he has only started eight Premier League games and came on as a substitute in nine.

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).

Liverpool’s midfield passing involvements

Player (per 90) Successful passes Successful passes in opp half Passess into box Touches in opp box

Dominik Szoboszlai

52.2

30.4

6.4

2.6

Alexis Mac Allister

57.6

31.4

2.6

0.3

Curtis Jones

52.8

30.4

2

3.6

Harvey Elliott

47

31.1

6.8

3.4

Ryan Gravenberch

33.1

22.4

2.5

3.2

Wataru Endo

56.2

29.6

1.8

0.6

Ironically, when Gravenberch arrived there were suggestions he could become Liverpool’s No 6. Instead, he has provided plenty of creativity and threat, with his expected-goals total (4.46) the highest of Liverpool’s midfielders. Despite this, he has only scored three goals. Szoboszlai (2.2) is the only midfielder who betters his 1.9 chances created per 90 too.

There is a lot to be encouraged about when analysing Gravenberch, even if his zero goal contributions in the league is an indication that his adaptation is not close to being complete. It should also not be forgotten that Arsenal away is one of the toughest Premier League fixtures to play in too.

Most importantly, Klopp retains faith in the player. And ideally by the end of the campaign, the youngster will have taken the necessary steps required to be much closer to the finished product — and a better option for Liverpool’s next manager to inherit.

(Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)





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