For Georginio Wijnaldum, life is good. In fact, even when things aren’t going so well, it’s unlikely that his irrepressible smile will fade from his face. The impossibility of not liking him helps him hugely when potentially facing criticism. The Anfield Talk’s Sam (@sammillnelfc) looks at the Dutch midfielder.
Since the Dutchman’s move from Newcastle, in the Summer of 2016, he has been a regular starter in Klopp’s sides and played a key part in Liverpool qualifying for the Champion’s League for the first time in four years. In his short time at the club, he has played as an attacker, a box-to-box midfielder, a holding midfielder and even started in a back three, earlier this season at the Amex.
When he signed, it was assumed that he would play as a winger, as he had done so successfully for Newcastle, the previous season. However, it was quickly apparent that Liverpool’s coaching staff had other plans.
For much of the 2016/17 season, he was one of the first names on the team sheet, often playing alongside Adam Lallana. In the early stages of the season, the pair of them struck a good balance between flare and ruggedness and quickly became an integral part of the team. Had injuries to team-mates not occurred, that midfield partnership could still be our first choice now.
Throughout the 2016/17 campaign, he was reliable on the ball and great at turning defence into attack, on the break, due to his brilliant ability to shield the ball from opponents and gain valuable yards up the pitch. Towards the end of the season, teams started to work out Liverpool’s game plan and sit deeper behind the ball. At times Wijnaldum looked to lack the killer instinct needed to play an incisive pass through a compact defence. However, he still popped up with important goals against Chelsea, Manchester City and Middlesbrough, on the last day of the season.
Whilst not playing terribly, the 2017/18 league season has largely passed him by. He has scored only one goal, compared to the five that he had at the same stage last season. He has also had less opportunity to play consistently, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s introduction has provided competition for places and a bigger goal threat.
As well as his goal-scoring drought, Wijnaldum’s defensive output hasn’t been as good this season either. Last season, he won more than double the number of tackles per game as he has this season. In general, WIjnaldum has let games pass him by of late, with many supporters suggesting that he ‘does nothing’ and he passes it sideways too often. He has played only half as many key passes per game as he did last season, which follows the narrative of him ‘doing nothing’.
Following recent suspensions and injuries, Wijnaldum was forced to play the last two games (against Everton and Manchester City) in defensive midfield. We first saw him play this role in pre-season and wondered whether he would continue his development, in that position, into the start of the competitive season. Instead, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson returned to playing their usual position in the number 6 role and Wijnaldum played ahead of one of the aforementioned sitting midfielders.
Wijnaldum and potentially the whole team appears to have profited from our regular holding midfielders’ injuries. ‘Gini’ has played incredibly well in his new position and I personally believe he should be given a run there in rotation with Jordan Henderson.
He possesses a good, strong physique to be able to muscle opponents off the ball and also appears to have the football brain to see dangerous situations arising and cut them out. He is also very comfortable on the ball and is possibly more mobile than Emre Can. The way he intercepts passes intelligently and wins back possession is reminiscent of the way N’Golo Kante plays.
Perhaps his new role in holding midfield gives him a purpose and may lead to him being more influential in games.
The stats also back up the concept that Wijnaldum is playing better as a DM. During the recent goalless draw at Goodison, Wijnaldum won 31% more duels than he has averaged this season. Wijnaldum won’t learn to play this new position overnight, however, if Jurgen gives him enough time I’m confident that he can be very effective for Liverpool going forward. Furthermore, the chances of Wijnaldum achieving in a holding midfield role will only be improved by the probability of Emre Can leaving the club in the Summer.
The only problem is that moving backwards won’t increase his chances of scoring an ever-elusive away goal!