Liverpool’s new double-act are surprising even Jurgen Klopp

Alexis Mac Allister was the first through the door, Ryan Gravenberch the last. A £35m signing from Brighton began a £150m overhaul of the Liverpool midfield that was completed on deadline day with a similar fee for another gifted technician. The Argentinian has been a constant in the Premier League from the start, his beginning to life at Anfield interrupted by a red card that was overturned, yet his importance increased as he has taken on added duties. The Dutchman has featured more in the midweek sides thus far.

But his first two starts each yielded an assist. The third brought a first Liverpool goal – the best goal of his career, Gravenberch said, though it was a tap-in – and this weekend may bring a different kind of first. The deadline day signing’s full Premier League debut could come in Mac Allister’s second reunion in a few days: one with his brother Kevin in Thursday’s win over Union Saint-Gilloise, the other with his old club Brighton.

If it will provide a justification for Gravenberch’s decision to trade Bayern Munich for Liverpool – he was only granted three Bundesliga starts in his year in Germany – Jurgen Klopp has seen enough to be excited. It includes his physicality.

“I am not sure a lot of people would have described the raw power in the past,” he said. “He is technically incredibly good, the first touch is insane, the speed is top class, a really good shooter: he is a really good player. Yes, he came late and yes, we play slightly different and yes, he needs time to adapt and that is what we can give him, thank God. He is completely happy with that and in the groove, he realises in each training sessions, he can see what the other boys do in similar positions: he can watch it, he learns, he is a smart boy. Everything goes in the right directions that is really, really nice to see. He got assists in the other games and now he has his first goal, now it is good: long may it continue.”

That combination of attributes helps indicate why Klopp has tracked Gravenberch since his Ajax days. His inability to break up the partnership of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka at the Allianz Arena could work to Liverpool’s advantage.

He may benefit, too, from Mac Allister’s versatility. Each was acquired largely as a No 8, albeit with the idea they could also occupy as a No 6. Yet neither is a doppelganger for the departed Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. Neither, in short, is a conventional defensive midfielder. Each is more constructive than destructive but Mac Allister has shown that his passing can be an asset from the base of the midfield.

Alexis Mac Allister has impressed his new manager (Getty Images)

Part of the key, Klopp thinks, is ensuring he is not isolated or exposed. Problems occurred in his ageing midfield last season when the gaps became too big, when the different departments of his side became disjointed. Now, after a summer makeover, he has younger legs and more attack-minded options. Mac Allister, wearing 10, may have an extended run as a 6.

“We didn’t even look for his best position yet,” Klopp added. “We just use him. He is a fantastic player: I love everything about him – [he is] super smart tactically and off the pitch as well, so that is really nice to work with. If we as a team defend well, he can play definitely the 6. Did I know that before? I had a guess but I was not sure because I did not know exactly how all the other boys would do defending. And because we defend more compact and better than in our bad phases last year, we have small spaces and then it is really good because he sees the situations really well and we have a really good footballer and it is really cool. But [his] best position? He is too young for me to know it but he is a midfielder, I can tell you that. He is a midfielder and I am happy about having him.”

Mac Allister had formed a fine trio with Dominik Szoboszlai and Curtis Jones but with the Merseysider suspended – Liverpool failed in their appeal against his red card against Tottenham – it seems a question of whether Harvey Elliott, Wataru Endo or Gravenberch will come in.

So it could be just the second time when Klopp starts with a midfield comprised entirely of summer signings. Endo had an awkward afternoon alongside Mac Allister and Szoboszlai at Newcastle. But the Japanese is 30: the long-term trio could be Gravenberch, still just 21, Mac Allister, already a World Cup winner at 24, and Szoboszlai, who has belied his 22 years with an outstanding start.

In January, Liverpool were terrible at Brighton with the veteran trio of Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago starting. “If you play like you played last year you get a massive knock again,” said Klopp. “We have to put a few things right because you can look once silly but you should not look a second time silly.” They lost 3-0 in Sussex with an old midfield nine months ago. They may return there with an entirely new trio.


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