By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
While the much-maligned Lazar Markovic rots in the Liverpool reserves, wilfully forgotten by every Reds fan, his compatriot is impressing while out on loan, but is talked about just as little.
Depending on what happens for Marko Grujic between now and the end of the season, we may find that this will change.
It is true that he has never really caught the eye in Liverpool red since his £6.3m transfer from Red Star Belgrade, the highlight being a magnificent looping header against Barcelona in a pre-season friendly at Wembley.
The same cannot be said, however, for his time this season on-loan at Hertha Berlin – the Serb has been a stand-out performer in Pal Dardai’s side when he has played so far this season.
Now, the midfielder has only featured in nine games – eight from the start – but that has been down to suffering a serious ankle injury in September which saw him miss seven league matches and a game in the DFB Pokal.
A re-occurrence of this injury hit once again in mid-December, when Grujic had only been back playing for three games, but this time it proved to be less severe and he made his comeback in the 3-1 victory at Nuremberg on January 20th, where he managed just under an hour.
But when he has played he has shown all the qualities that Liverpool fans were promised when he signed for the Anfield club in 2016 and Hertha, who sit 7th in the Bundesliga, have not yet lost a game this season in which he has featured (six wins and two draws).
His ability and influence has not been lost on head coach Dardai, who was effusive in his praise for the 22-year-old in a press conference after the victory against Eintracht Frankfurt on December 8th.
He said: “I’ve been at Hertha for 22 years. This isn’t meant as an insult to anyone else, but Marko is by far the best midfielder I’ve seen in my time at the club.”
This was before Grujic’s second, less serious injury, and Dardai was at it again this week after the Serb’s return, telling Hungarian outlet Index: “This is the first time in my life when I didn’t have to settle with the middle shelf of the supermarket, instead I was able to reach the top shelf.”
“But it doesn’t matter what I think of him, the numbers talk for themselves. When he started and played a lot we had a 2.4 point average. He has the whole team on his shoulders.
“With this point average we would contend in the Champions League. Top three teams in the Bundesliga have a point average like this.
“If he doesn’t do anything, he still makes all the others calm with his presence. You know, he provides stability. Without him, we have a 0.7 point average. We would be relegated with this kind of performance.
“When he did not play, it affected all the others. We missed him in the middle of the park. We can have a good spring if he’s healthy.”
So when he plays it’s clear that he can impress – Pal Dardai has been involved in the game at a high level for a lot of years and so is no fool – so what does he need to do to get a chance in the Liverpool first-team when he returns to Merseyside in the summer?
Firstly, he needs to stay fit and be on the pitch so that he can continue to show his talents. Injuries can be random and cruel so this part is, ultimately, out of his control, but it will be vital if he is to have any chance at Anfield.
When he does play his general performances have been excellent, but he hasn’t had enough end-product – his two goals so far this season came in that win over Frankfurt and against Schalke last weekend, and he is yet to record an assist in 671 minutes on the field.
To really catch the eye of the Liverpool fans who have all-but forgotten about him, he will need to improve this side of his game.
And then, when he returns to Merseyside at the end of the season, he will need to hope that he will be given a place within the squad by Jurgen Klopp, who may have already decided whether or not Grujic will feature in his plans for the future of his tenure at the club.
With the Reds seen as one of the best teams in Europe right now, there is little doubt that, if he gets the chance, then Marko Grujic will want to stick around and fight for his place at Liverpool.
If he is unable to do so then, judging by Dardai’s reverence for his talents, he will have no problem securing a return to Berlin on a permanent basis, should the two club’s be able to strike a deal.