- Liverpool's midfield rebuild is close to completion with the Reds set to sign Ryan Gravenberch from Bayern Munich for €40m.
- Gravenberch is a box-to-box midfielder who can also play as a deeper defensive midfielder, but he excels in creating chances and dribbling.
- He stacks up well against some current elite defensive midfielders, and while he falls behind in some categories, Gravenberch's potential and versatility make him a promising addition for Liverpool.
It might have taken them slightly longer than they planned, but Liverpool’s midfield rebuild looks set to be completed on transfer deadline day.
The Reds have agreed a deal with Bayern Munich for the transfer of Ryan Gravenberch. The young Dutch midfielder is set to move to Anfield for a reported fee of €40m.
It is the second time that Gravenberch has made a switch in a year, with the 21-year-old only joining the Bundesliga champions from Ajax last summer. But that move has been a disappointing experience for him.
Over the course of last season, he only made 24 appearances in the German league, and only three of those were starts. Clearly, he believes a move to the Premier League is the best way to re-kickstart his career.
What kind of player are Liverpool buying?
Jurgen Klopp’s side have made no secret of their desire to revamp their engine room this summer. There has been a significant turnover in the middle of the park, with the likes of James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all leaving Anfield.
In place of the ageing quintet, the club have brought in two relatively young players, Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, both of whom can play in advanced midfield roles, but there has been a desire to recruit a more defensive-minded player too.
After the failed pursuits of Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia, Liverpool recruited Wataru Endo Stuttgart for £16.2m. The 30-year-old has signed a contract until 2027, but with his age, he is seen as a stop-gap in that position.
So is Gravenberch the permanent holder Klopp wants moving forward? Well, given he played just 576 Bundesliga minutes last season, it would be difficult to draw too many conclusions from that season’s data. But his numbers for Ajax are encouraging.
His heatmap on Sofascore for his last season at Ajax shows that he likes to play in all areas of the midfield, helping out in defence while also getting forward to support attacking moves. That box-to-box style is also made clear by the fact he completed 35.3 passes per 90 in the opposition half (Squawka).
Gravenberch, therefore, is not a midfielder who will sit back and be on clean-up duty, but Klopp won’t want that anyway. He’ll likely ask his holder to get up and down the pitch to cover all areas of the game. His newest recruit could therefore be perfect.
But, inevitably, there are questions about how he compares to the current elite defensive midfielders. While it’s difficult to draw many conclusions until Gravenberch steps onto a Premier League pitch for the first time, we’ve jumped into Squawka’s comparison matrix to compare Gravenberch’s stats from his 2021/22 campaign with Ajax (his most complete recent set of data) to the numbers of four other brilliant holding midfielders from last season: Manchester City’s Rodri, Manchester United’s Casemiro, Arsenal’s Declan Rice, and Chelsea’s Caicedo.
Where does Gravenberch excel?
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gravenberch excels in the more attacking categories, given his box-to-box style. In fact, compared to the other four players, the stats make a case that he is the most creative.
The 21-year-old ranks highest for assists per 90 and chances created every game, recording metrics of 0.3 and 1.4 respectively. Maybe not the most jaw-dropping numbers, but considering what is being asked of him, still impressive nonetheless.
He then takes the crown in take-ons completed, demonstrating his ability on the ball, while he is clean in the tackle too. Only a certain ex-Irons man recorded a lower 'fouls conceded from attempted tackles' number.
Overall, he doesn’t take the crown in most categories compared to the others. But given that he is only 21, and that he will only improve under Klopp’s guidance, these are promising signs for Liverpool supporters.
Caicedo less successful?
What might make fans smile even more is that, based on the numbers, Gravenberch wins leads more categories than another summer transfer target, Caicedo.
Last season, the Ecuadorian midfielder was a standout player for Brighton, putting out fires for Roberto De Zerbi’s side. His numbers show that he is a competent tackler, making 2.9 per 90 (2nd in this list), that he fares well for ground duel success percentage (2nd) and that he is tidy on the ball, losing possession only 9.9 times per 90 (2nd lowest).
But doesn't come first in any of those. In fact, the only areas he does triumph in are shot accuracy and fouls won. Caicedo does also get green marks for red cards too, but only because he doesn’t come last in that category. We’ll get to the biggest culprit later.
Considering that Chelsea paid nearly triple what Liverpool are paying for Gravenberch, maybe the latter could be a steal of the summer. The only argument against that, though, is that Chelsea have paid a premium for a Premier League-proven player, who is still only 21.
What about the other three?
Now though, we come to the best of the best, the three finest defensive midfielders in the league in some way.
Starting with the bronze medal, we have Arsenal’s Rice. The new signing will have a huge impact on the Gunners this season, providing greater solidity in the middle of the park at the Emirates.
In total, he takes first place in seven separate categories: goals, fouls conceded from attempted tackles, ground duel success percentage, interceptions, blocks, total cards and red cards. Although, as previously said for card-related categories, you’re really just trying not to have the highest score per 90.
The fouls conceded, ground duel success percentage, interceptions and blocks stats are all arguably the most promising. They all prove he is capable of winning the ball back, which could allow Arsenal to spring quick counterattacks this season.
In second place, we have United’s Brazilian midfielder. Casemiro has a reputation for being an incredible tackler and someone who can win the ball back with ease, something which is highlighted in the stats. He ranks highest for duels contested and tackles made, while also taking the crown for aerial and ground duels contested.
But interestingly, it is his progressive passing that is highlighted further by the numbers. The 31-year-old recorded more long passes attempted, more through balls attempted, and more forward passes than anybody else. His desire to spring attacks is certainly an underrated quality.
Overall, Casemiro gets green marks in 11 different categories, coming first in 10 of them. The biggest drawback, though, is that he finishes with the highest total cards and red cards per 90. He picked up two reds last year, and everyone knows the best ability is availability.
But in the end, number one wasn’t even close. Rodri is widely regarded as the best defensive midfielder in the English top-flight right now and an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s system.
Those claims are both backed up by the numbers, with Rodri topping 14 different categories. A good number of those highlight his prowess on the ball, with Rodri losing possession fewer times than the other four players while attempting and completing the most passes.
The Spaniard loves to supplement the attack too, illustrated by the fact he plays the most passes in the opposition half. And he is a good dribbler, recording the highest take-on success percentage of anyone on this list.
He might only top aerial duel success percentage and blocks for the defensive categories, but everyone knows he is no slouch when stopping the opposition either. Truly a master at all aspects of the game.
How will Gravenberch do in England?
So, going off the numbers, Gravenberch has work to do if he wants to be in the conversation with the rest of these midfielders. But the underlying numbers, in comparison to the others, do give cause for optimism.
Given his tendency to bomb up and down the field, it is likely we will see him take up a similar role to Rodri in Klopp’s midfield, rather than play solely as a holder. That means we will get to see exactly how all facets of his game hold up in England.
Time will only tell if he fits Klopp’s system like a glove, but in a team as dominant on the ball as Liverpool, might Anfield be a perfect place for Gravenberch to be? If he can contribute in defence and attack in the coming years, expect him to put the Reds back in the title conversation.