Georginio Wijnaldum has adopted a new role at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp; a role that he is flourishing in. But, establishing himself as a defensive midfielder was discovered by luck. We have Emre Can and Jordan Henderson to thank for that.
Tuesday 10th April 2018, Manchester City host Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-final second leg. Liverpool had run riot at Anfield the week before, hosting a three-nil thrashing.
The Reds’ were already without Emre Can who had picked up a back injury in March against Watford. Jordan Henderson was also unavailable through suspension after accumulating too many yellow cards.
It meant that it was the second time in the 2017/18 campaign that the manager had to throw Gini in at the deep end – although this time it was nowhere near as unfamiliar as playing as part of a back three. There wasn’t much choice to be completely honest. The Dutchman, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were the only senior midfielders available at Klopp’s disposal. The boss had to call upon someone. That person was Wijnaldum. Ultimately, the absence of our only recognised defensive midfielders meant an opportunity had arisen for Gini. It was just meant to be.
It’s fair to say most Liverpool fans were unsure of what to expect of him as the deepest lying midfielder in the team.
The former Newcastle man found it tough in the first half, but after the break he took the game in his stride. A tale of two halves. He was absolutely crucial with his interceptions, blocks, cutting of passing lanes and even played a part in that all important Salah goal to kill off the tie. Fans had just witnessed Wijnaldum as a number 6 for the very first time. That was the start of something new.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2018/19 campaign and the 27-year old has played a huge part thus far after five games, starting every one – four of which as a DM.
Henderson had returned to the Liverpool team in game week four which meant Gini was deployed as a number 8. The difference was telling. It’s the lack of involvement that plays a huge part and also the reason behind the myth of “going missing in away games”.
In fact, Wijnaldum admitted back in August that Jürgen Klopp was demanding more from him in games.
“He said that I have to be more involved in games, and that there was too many times that I was not involved and that it was easier to play a bad game,”
“I was busy with that and last season he was really busy with the No.6 position while my head was in the No.8 position!”
“But he said that’s also the next step, that you can play in more positions than only one because you have the qualities to play there and you can help the team to do better.”
It appears Gini Wijnaldum has take that advice on board since the off after being near faultless in every game he has played so far this season. For instance against Brighton, the versatile midfielder took 80 minutes to misplaced just ONE pass out of his 76 that day. That doesn’t spell good news for Henderson or summer signing Fabinho. However, it’s a great selection headache for Klopp to have.
It’s got to a point where I think we can all accept he is a top class defensive midfielder and I think he can become world class. Now I’m completely aware that it’ll probably be looked at as a ridiculous statement to make, and perhaps a little reactionary, but he has got the potential to be.
He has great composure on the ball and is someone who can dribble and pass his way out of tight situations. Gini boasts a 92.3% pass success percentage which is higher than the likes of Kante, Fernandinho, Matic & others this season. Of the three, only Kante has averaged more tackles than Wijnaldum in 2018/19.
The Dutchman always has plenty of energy to burn and rarely runs out of steam which is emphasised by the fact he is one of five Liverpool players to register 450+ minutes so far this season. He’s not the tallest or most physical defensive midfielder but he can be ruthless and brutal at times. However, that’s probably one trait he could improve – throwing himself into tackles more often could help out his game further.
Liverpool now take on Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday to kick start their Champions League campaign. I would expect Klopp to stick to the same side that beat Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday with Wijnaldum deployed as the 6 once again. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of Henderson or Fabinho come in.