After Liverpool opened their pre-season schedule on Wednesday night at Prenton Park, a convincing 4-0 win over non-league Tranmere Rovers seemed the perfect start. Less optimistic news came on Thursday morning, as The Times suggested that Red Bull Leipzig have officially told the Reds that they have no plans to sell midfielder Naby Keita.
Keita is understood to be one of the club’s top targets this summer with his dynamism and energy in midfield understood to be exactly what Jurgen Klopp is looking to add to his midfield trio alongside the likes of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Georgino Wijnaldum.
However, Klopp may find another option even closer to home after Wednesday night’s game. Young midfielder Marko Grujic stole the show with his commanding midfield display in the first 45 minutes and certainly made his case. Capping his display off with a superb goal from 30 yards, the 21-year-old made a clear impression.
Grujic’s goal came from nothing, with a sharp turn in midfield, followed up by a low and curling effort which found the bottom corner in impressive style, to give his side a 2-0 lead.
Even asides from the goal, Grujic looked good on and off the ball. With the ball at his feet, his distribution looked promising as he drove forwards and repeatedly found Sheyi Ojo on the left flank to create opportunities, with Ojo’s pace and dribbling another major threat.
Off the ball, Grujic did not allow his National League opposition a moments peace. Right from the off, he was quick to close down the Tranmere players and harried them until he either won the ball off them or forced them into an error.
Despite all the signs of promise from the Serbian, Liverpool fans must be cautious. Grujic was equally as impressive as times last pre-season, even scoring a sensational headed goal against Barcelona at Wembley, but failed to produce the goods once the season kicked off.
In fairness, his impact was hugely limited by injury with a hamstring problem forcing him onto the sidelines for the majority of the campaign. Even then, to have only played 39 minutes across five substitute appearances, with only nine minutes from the end of September, will have been disappointing in his debut season in the Premier League.
There are doubts over whether Grujic has the fitness and the strength to adapt to life in England, with his early appearance against Burnley last season doing little to argue his corner against critics, who said that he would be easily bullied off the ball by the Premier League’s more physical players.
Grujic clearly lacks the established quality of Keita, but if Red Bull Leipzig do refuse to sell to Liverpool this summer then there are certainly worse options than to give Grujic more opportunities. Alongside the experience of the likes of Jordan Henderson or James Milner, he could go on to become the long term midfielder that the Reds need.
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