Ever since Virgil van Dijk’s injury at Goodison Park back in October, Liverpool have undergone continuous defensive setbacks: Joe Gomez’s mysterious injury on England duty; Joel Matip’s ongoing muscle problems; and an evident lack of depth past that. Academy players, such as Rhys Williams, and makeshift centre backs have been Klopp’s last resorts.
Despite an initially resilient response, the Reds have consequently paid the price in recent
weeks for their limited resources. All month, fans have been crying out for defensive
recruitment. However, as things stand, activity this transfer window looks unlikely.
One left field alternative embedded within their squad is Klopp’s very first Liverpool signing,
Marko Grujic. Currently at Porto on his fifth consecutive loan spell, time looks to be running out for the midfielder to revive a dwindling Anfield career. Nevertheless, transitioning from midfield to the back line could pave a way into Klopp’s plans. This would not only add depth to Liverpool’s depleted squad, but also allow Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to thrive in midfield - their natural role.
So, how easy would it be to bring this idea to fruition? Klopp has a knack for such adjustments; look only to the Reds’ current batch of players for prime examples. As a defensive midfielder, Grujic will have similar instincts and tendencies to a centre back.
Moreover, he is usually positioned on the left of a midfield two; easy to slot in beside right sided centre back, Matip.
The Serbian may not even feel drastically out of his positional depth. His conventionally deep-lying role is not too dissimilar to where Liverpool’s high backline sit. This would offer some much-needed familiarity and assurance to his transition.
On the other hand, Grujic has only eight Premier League appearances to his name.
Realistically, how prepared would he be for such intense and high tempo matches, week in
week out? Jerome Boateng, Gerard Pique and Winston Bogarde have all previously struggled to make an impression in England. If these ultimately successful centre backs could not manage it, why would Grujic? Not only would he be playing out of position, but he still has to prove that he can make the grade.
On top of this, he has not had the best of starts to life in Portugal. Despite a handful of cup
appearances, Grujic has failed to nail a down a regular starting spot in the first team. Even if he was versatile enough to transition to centre back, have his confidence and form been shot by a lack of playing time?
There is a reason why Klopp signed the Serbian back in 2016; deep down, he is a gifted player. “He is the best midfielder [Hertha] have had in the last twenty years” – Hertha BSC coach, Pal Dardai, in 2019. Still only 24, the best days of his career could yet be ahead of him. If he were to rediscover his accomplished form from those days in the German capital, we may finally see his true potential.
Ultimately, recalling Grujic from an unsuccessful loan spell and throwing him in at the deep end would be a massive risk for Klopp. However, what other options does he have?
Written by: Will Morley