Indicative of the Jurgen Klopp era as a whole thus far, Liverpool’s first full season under the frantic stewardship of the charismatic German has taken its fair share of twists and turns.
Defensive frailty has proved to be just as deeply woven into Klopp’s brand of football at Anfield as the sort of devastating attacking enterprise that saw them challenge for top spot in the Premier League earlier this season, with the Reds rarely ever on an even keel it seems.
Still, one man who has seen a level of consistency across his season on Merseyside is Marko Grujic. Just not an overly positive one.
Today marks his 21st birthday, representing rather a natural time to explain just who the Serbian actually is, and what he could offer the Liverpool first-team.
Signed in January 2016 from Red Star Belgrade, Klopp’s assistant (Željko Buvač) flew to the Serbian capital in order to convince Grujic to sign for the Kop giants, despite a number of links to other top European clubs. The player’s father is thought to have initially been against the idea of moving to Anfield so soon, though Buvač’s trip ultimately helped the deal over the line.
Upon signing for the club, Grujic proudly declared he ‘would choose Liverpool over Real Madrid and Barcelona’, before finishing off what proved to be a title-winning campaign with Red Star.
So, what’s going on with him?
Well, Grujic has been unfortunate with injuries during his first season on the Reds’ books. Despite some strong performances over the course of pre-season, he’s struggled to keep fit for any extended period of time, even claiming as far back as September that ‘next season will be the one where I show what I can do.’
Three goals in pre-season hinted Liverpool had found themselves a goalscoring midfielder, someone who loves to break behind enemy lines. Due to Grujic’s nationality, imposing physical frame and marauding runs, he’s been compared to compatriot Nemanja Matic. Still, while the Chelsea star sits deep and breaks up play, Grujic’s knack for late runs into the box could be a real asset to Liverpool next year.
Much has been made about the impact Sadio Mane’s absence had on the Reds during the African Cup of Nations. Without the searingly quick Senegalese, the team doesn’t have a natural outlet to prove a direct foil for the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
Clearly, Grujic doesn’t offer the same lightning pace as Mane, though could at least have dragged the team up the field and help chip in with goals. A hugely gifted technician, he’d have also helped firm up a midfield so often lacking a physical lynchpin when teams attack Liverpool.
Indeed, he revealed Klopp saw him something as ‘something between a No.6 and a No.10’ upon his arrival, the perfect hybrid of midfield roles to have helped Liverpool during the opening stages of 2017 , a period when the team as a whole were at sixes and sevens.
Able to address pressing concerns both going forward and backwards for Liverpool, Grujic could be a big player for Liverpool next season. Should he manage to shake off his injuries and avoid having to battle with yet more big name signings for a starting berth, Klopp’s first permanent signing at the club could soon become one of his most important.