Name: Demarai Gray
Current Club: Leicester City
Position: Left Winger
Following a horrific start to the new year, Liverpool bounced back nicely last weekend, handling Spurs with ease. While it was nice to see Jürgen Klopp and the players right the ship, seemingly, we have learned a lot about the club in this tough stretch to start 2017. The Reds are still very weak at the back – sans Matip and Clyne – the goalkeeping continues to be suspect, at best, and perhaps the squad depth is not as impressive as it once seemed back in August.
With Klopp hoping to lead the club to the Champions League next season, the issues above have to be addressed in the summer. According to several reliable journalists, such as Dominic King from the Daily Mail, Klopp is hoping to add two wingers to the squad heading into the 2017-18 season. One target, who is highly regarded by many in German football is twenty-year-old Julian Brandt of Bayer Leverkusen. Brandt, who made his senior debut for the North Rhine-Westphalia club at the ripe age of 17, is well known by Jürgen Klopp. Although a deal for the youngster would still be tough, with the German side struggling mightily this season, Brandt is looking more likely to move on this summer. The other target, according to reports, is Leicester City and England U-21 winger Demarai Gray.
Gray is the stereotypical Liverpool target – young, versatile, loads of potential – and Klopp is sure to keep a close eye on him over the coming months. While he may not be the marquee name people are hoping for in this summer, he is certainly a player who seems to fit Klopp’s style well. The former Birmingham man has forced his way into Leicester’s plans this season, already appearing in 32 matches in all competitions for the champions. Although he has proven to be a talent for the Foxes, this very well could be his final season for Claudio Ranieri’s side.
Born in Birmingham, England, Demarai Gray joined his hometown youth ranks in 2006 at the age of 11. Gray worked his way up through the Birmingham City Academy and, by 2013, had earned his senior debut in a Championship match vs. Millwall.
Following an impressive few weeks in the 2013 campaign, then-Birmingham City manager Lee Clark named Gray in the starting eleven and the youngster took that opportunity and impressed. Although the Blues 13/14 season ended in disappointment, Gray earned Academy Player of the Season honours.
As the following season took off, Gray started a few matches but didn’t establish himself in the starting eleven until new manager Gary Rowett took the reigns. Under the new boss, Gray made 43 total appearances in 2014/15, scoring six goals while bringing home the Young Player of the Year award. Out of the six goals he notched, three came in one match vs. Reading which truly put the youngster on the map. His 43 appearances, which for his age is truly spectacular, also perked the ears of several Premier League clubs. After the Blues rejected a bid from Crystal Palace, Gray went on to sign a new long-term deal in the following summer prior to making his £3.7m to the King Power Stadium in the January 2016 transfer window.
In less than a week since his arrival in Leicester, Gray went on to debut in the FA Cup and registered an assist against Spurs. His pace and confidence earned him a Premier League debut a few days later against Aston Villa. Gray accumulated 14 appearances in the Foxes’ title run but couldn’t find the back of the net. With Ranieri rarely tinkering with the starting eleven, Gray was used mostly used late on to see matches out. He played very well in that role which showed how important the youngster was to their improbable title run.
The current Premier League season for Leicester has not exactly gone according to plan as they sit just above the relegation zone, however, Gray has impressed nonetheless. In his 30+ appearances, Gray has started six Premier League matches and one Champions League match – a 5-0 loss to Portuguese giants Porto, notching two goals and two assists in total. He also won Man of the Match in Leicester’s FA Cup match vs. Derby on February 8th.
Strengths & Style
As I mentioned above, Gray seems to be the stereotypical Liverpool target. He is young with Premier League experience, is versatile, has loads of pace, shows a solid work rate and is technically gifted. Similar to most old-school wingers, Gray loves running at defenders down the flank and cutting back inside on his stronger right foot. Off the ball, Gray is superb, as well. His work rate and ability to track back and defend is a quality that well all know Jürgen Klopp desires in his wingers. This season, Gray averages 0.7 tackles per match along with 0.3 interceptions. Comparatively speaking, Sadio Mané, who has a tremendous motor and high work rate, averages 0.9 tackles and 0.2 interceptions per match, nearly identical to Gray.
Not only does Gray fit the bill in most desirable areas for Klopp, but, as we all know, Liverpool lack quality and depth out wide. Aside from Sadio Mané, the options out wide are very thin. The departures of Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic (loan) combined with the injuries and frustrations for Sheyi Ojo leaves Klopp without many legitimate options. This problem was highlighted in full detail when Mané packed his bags and travelled to Gabon for the African Cup of Nations.
Although some statistics may not seem overly impressive, his total minutes must be taken into account. His shots per game (0.9), key passes per game (0.6) and dribbles per game (1.3) all seem very low, however, he has only amassed just over 700 minutes in the Premier League. In the matches where Gray starts or plays more than 45 minutes, his statistics are quite good. For example, in Leicester’s last match vs. Swansea City, he played 80 minutes and led the team in key passes (3) and total dribbles (9). Additionally, he rose up and took pride in his defensive responsibilities, notching three tackles and two interceptions – both good for second in the entire squad.
On paper, Gray needs to improve his end product. However, his dribbling abilities, confidence and fantastic balance allow him to get into very dangerous areas. With some fine-tuning and a little more physical maturity added to his repertoire, Gray could very well be a force in years to come.
Similar to most players just 20 years of age, Gray has his share of weaknesses. One of them being his frame. Although he is not terribly fragile, he is still physically weak. This is something that would have to improve quickly if he hopes to take the next step in his career at a big club. If he does end up at Liverpool, perhaps Jürgen will get him on the Divock Origi plan which saw the Belgian increase muscle mass at an alarming rate.
His other noticeable weakness is his consistency. Again, this is a common trait with young players which is why game time is so crucial. His move from Birmingham to Leicester was a great decision, in my opinion. This move allowed him to accumulate decent game time in the top flight of English football without massive pressures surrounding him. If he were to have made a massive jump to a big club right away, that could have halted his progression. However, now he is playing every week in the best league in the world which is helping improve his inconsistency.
I’ve said it twice already – Demarai Gray is an obvious target for the Reds and Klopp. With the boss needing to strengthen this area in the summer, this is a great opportunity to land a young kid with Premier League experience for a reasonable fee.
If Gray makes his way to Merseyside, I don’t expect him to crack the starting eleven next season. His addition would solely be to bolster our squad’s depth to deal with injuries, domestic cups and, hopefully, the Champions League. With that being said, the England U-21 player would have expectations to grow into a real playmaker and help solidify the squad in the future.
If the journalists who cover LFC are to be believed, then fans should relish the chance to secure Gray. His arrival wouldn’t mean the end of Klopp’s transfer activity, but would just be a nice piece to his overall puzzle. Again, players like Julian Brandt are expected to be pursued as well as additional help in defence, possibly a new keeper and a natural striker. Sure, Demarai Gray isn’t the massive name everyone wants to see, but his potential arrival (at the right price) should be welcomed with open arms. The kid has potential and, if there’s one manager in the world who flourishes with developing young players it is Jürgen Klopp.
Written by Michael Pietrzak