Liverpool just got 'super' glimpse of midfield future as Jürgen Klopp gap remains


Liverpool traveled to Austria this week, with Jürgen Klopp gaining an opportunity to experiment on the pitch as his Europa League campaign got underway. The Reds are regarded as strong favorites to win the tournament this season, as they are recognized as a Champions League outfit rather than one for Europe's secondary competition.

Although Klopp has been eager to publicly deny as much in his interviews of late, Liverpool should top its Europa League group in the coming months, which consists of LASK, Union SG and Toulouse. On Thursday night, his team selection suggested that he knows that behind the scenes, as he made 11 changes to the team that beat Wolves in the Premier League just a few days earlier.

Klopp presented a number of second strings with minutes against LASK, while testing youngster Stefan Bajčetić in an unfamiliar role as an inverted full-back. The German coach also presented Ryan Gravenberch with his very first start as a Liverpool player, having moved to Merseyside before the summer transfer window closed in a $43m (£35m/€40m) switch from Bayern Munich.

The Dutchman is a huge talent with a very high ceiling. He was simply not given much of a chance in Bavaria, hence Liverpool's decision to take a chance on him by adding him to Klopp's squad this summer. Still just 21 years old, Gravenberch has more than enough time on his side to evolve into an elite performer.

The former Ajax wonderkid started as part of a midfield three against LASK, and throughout the course of the match, he exhibited his offensive qualities. It is clear that Gravenberch is a very technical talent. demonstrating a remarkable ability to glide across the pitch using his athletic perks.

Indeed, when Klopp was asked about him last week during a press conference, he was keen to focus on his strengths with the ball. "The package is really interesting," he said. "Good in small spaces, big spaces as well, can accelerate with the ball, really good pass. I don't know where he will end up [positionally] he needs to fit in, but he can reach closer to his peak and we will work on that. He's here for a long time."

Many Liverpool supporters witnessed Gravenberch in action for the first time on Thursday night, and based on what they watched, they will have experienced a dynamic and expressive midfielder who likes to drive forward with the ball at his feet, covering lots of ground from penalty box to penalty box.

It is still very early days in his Liverpool career, but his full debut offered an insight into why he is somewhat unlikely to become an heir to Fabinho's throne, as many fans originally theorized.

The Brazilian left Anfield earlier this summer, moving to Saudi Arabia to sign for Al Ittihad. Jordan Henderson also moved to the Middle East, with Klopp suddenly without a single holding midfielder within his ranks. He later addressed that void by securing the signature of Wataru Endō from Stuttgart, but the Japanese international arrived as a 30-year-old veteran who seemed destined to become a squad option rather than a starter.

The Asian midfielder has proved to be exactly that so far, with Alexis Mac Allister performing the role of Fabinho in the Premier League, even though the Argentine is more accustomed to playing further forward. Liverpool was linked with Crystal Palace's Cheick Doucouré as Fabinho's successor just a few months ago, but a move for the Eagles star failed to materialize.

Right now, the Reds are managing without a specialist number six, which explains why many supporters expected Gravenberch to become that player over time. He certainly has the frame to occupy such a defensive role — standing at around 1.9m tall — but as shown by his display against LASK, he is an attack-minded contributor who wishes to run up and down the pitch rather than sitting in deeper areas and making careful lateral movements.

During Thursday's clash in Linz, the Reds starlet posted more progressive carries than any other player on the pitch except for Kostas Tsimikas, who played around 20 minutes more than him. He also won more fouls than anybody else as a result of his tricky nature and ability to evade pressure, and nobody found the penalty box with more passes than him.

Gravenberch looked at home as an advanced midfielder. He could still technically become a deep-lying pillar of strength on Merseyside, but based on his first start, it seems Klopp will have to continue in his search for a capable heir to Fabinho's throne.

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