Analysing Gini Wijnaldum’s Disappearing Act

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After having a fairly decent debut season and scoring numerous meaningful goals, Gini Wijnaldum has developed a decent reputation amongst Liverpool fans thus far. Gini’s first season playing under Klopp resulted in a return of 6 goals and 9 assists in the Premier League as well as strong performances in the so-called ‘big games’ against Liverpool’s title rivals.

However, although the season is just a few games old, his start to the 17/18 campaign hasn’t been good enough and it’s left much to be desired. Recently, I watched Spurs lose 1-2 to Chelsea at Wembley but was in awe of Mousa Dembélé’s midfield performance throughout. Dembélé was imposing for the entirety of the match and demonstrated how to boss a midfield without being a playmaker with an extensive passing range. He was aggressive, forceful, and combative and was involved as much as his capabilities allowed him to be.

Dembélé’s imposing midfield display resulted in me questioning why Wijnaldum doesn’t offer the same or at least a similar contribution for Liverpool. Instead, he appears to offer almost the opposite and regularly goes missing during matches. We’ve been led to believe this is tactically allowed, intentional or irrelevant due to his scoring contribution, so I decided to look into it myself.

After vaguely looking into Gini’s statistics, I rewatched the whole first half against Crystal Palace to keep a specific eye on his game. I found that his contribution, especially to build-up play and ball progression, is strange and almost non-existent. Despite being a central midfielder, Gini’s body language at times and his general play almost presents a message of ‘I don’t want the ball but I’ll take it if I have to’.

I found myself frustrated following him at times because of his apparent lack of desire to actually want the ball by offering a suitable passing option to the man in possession. When Gini does receive the ball, his passing is limited and rarely opens up play or breaks lines. Against Crystal Palace, he completed just 6 forward passes in 71 minutes of playing time. Also, in 76 Premier League appearances for both Liverpool and Newcastle, he’s made just 6 through-balls.

In the screenshot below, you’ll see the first example of my findings after watching the Palace match back. Klavan had the ball at his feet and has already passed to Robertson who’s currently on the ball, and after receiving that pass Gini’s body language remained the same whereas Henderson has already opened up his body to receive the ball next. Robertson then makes the pass to Henderson who’s demonstrated a desire to want the ball, in comparison to Gini who stood as a bystander and allowed the ball to progress in a triangle shape around him without any hint of aspiration to want the ball.

In the second example which is pictured below, Robertson is about to take a throw-in and has Gini directly in front of him completely free and looking like the expected recipient of the throw. However, Robertson throws the ball over Gini’s head to Klavan almost as though Gini isn’t even there, which again demonstrates Gini’s lack of authority and desire to actually demand the ball.

Finally, the third example I’ve included is pictured below. In the screenshot, Klavan has the ball at his feet and the obvious passing option is Gini who’s directly in front of him in space. However, although Gini is the clear passing option, he reacts surprisingly when Klavan decides to pass to him and has to quickly shift in order to receive the pass as shown in the screenshot.

Each of the examples above occurred within the first 25 minutes against Palace, and although they may not appear as glaring issues, they’re still relevant and uncharacteristic for a central midfielder. The screenshots demonstrate subtly how Gini is happy to let the game pass him by through a lack of authority and desire to demand or want the ball. Over the course of a season, these understated moments add up and would somewhat explain why he appears to disappear for large periods during matches.

After the two Premier League games so far this season, Gini is averaging 34.5 passes per game despite playing in central midfield for a dominant ball-playing side. In comparison, Dembélé is averaging 69 per game, and Paul Pogba 68.5. Against Crystal Palace, Liverpool’s left-back Andrew Robertson had more touches on his debut than Gini has had in his first three games combined against Palace, Watford & Hoffenheim.

Gini appears at his most comfortable when he’s surging forward without the ball and making those late runs into the box. After focusing on his game, I personally think he’d benefit more in a role similar to that filled by the likes of Davy Klaasen, Frank Lampard and Aaron Ramsey. A role in which he’s given protection behind him and he’s expected to contribute with goals rather than creative build-up play and ball progression.

Liverpool’s current setup is highly reliant on Mane & Salah being supplied with through-balls or quick creative play. So, the addition of Salah to Liverpool’s XI is only going to negatively influence Gini’s game, as he’s another player making those penetrating lateral runs that Gini likes to make. Last season, Coutinho occupied one of those wide slots and would often come deeper to contribute to creative play allowing Gini to surge forward more effectively than he can now.

Wijnaldum is currently 26 and thus approaching his supposed peak as a midfielder, so any significant alterations to his game are going to be difficult. To simply instruct Gini to ‘get involved more’ is going to be pointless at this stage as it appears unnatural for him to do so. For me, the most important thing to learn is the specific profile of player that he is. If he’s going to start in the XI, he has to have the right role and profile of players around him; otherwise, he’s going to be ineffective. Personally, though, I think he’s an ideal impact player to have as a substitute if something different is needed to break down an opponent, similar to how Ramsey is used by Wenger and how Lampard was used in his short time at Manchester City by Pellegrini.

To conclude and clarify, Gini Wijnaldum isn’t a bad player and I’m fond of some aspects of his game, but he’s not naturally suited to his current role especially when Liverpool play an inferior opponent. His natural tendency is to almost shy away from build-up play, hence why he appears to ‘go missing’ in so many games. Thus, hopefully, we’ll see Gini used more precisely by Klopp moving forward so that the player can demonstrate his strengths rather than trying to fulfil a role with responsibilities that are alien to him.

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  1. Very insightful and well written article. Spot on with your analysis.

    I’ve always found that Wijnaldum isn’t suited for that “build-up play” role. He is better suited higher up the midfield, as a substitute. Right now is a good opportunity for him with Lallana out and Coutinho still missing too prove his impact.

    Henderson and Can must be first choice midfield to start matches. Milner, Wijnaldum, and Grujic off the bench.

    One more solid addition out of Kovacic or Keita to give us a complete midfield.

  2. Finally, an insightful, in depth quality article . Good job.

    A midfielder must have vision and be able to see the field and pick out an advantage . While Gini has not shown that ability. He does not appear confident when he dies get the ball and last year he just seemed to slow the offense down.

    Another quality of a holding midfielder is to disrupt the opponents offence. Can is superb but Gini simply does not dominate space.

    Gini is not a top of the table midfielder.

  3. Absolutely brilliant analysis backed up with stats to underpin, i think it’s fair to say that as we advance the squad Gini may struggle to make the first 11, i can see Keita in there doing exactly the job Dembele does for Spurs, i can see Seri letting Henderson get back to using his engine (providing that heel issue has gone, I’ve had it, it hurts) To be fair we are playing catch up and the money that Gini was bought for actually determines the level he’s at so if Jurgen can’t improve him by coaching and making his awareness more sensitive, he may find his level suited to being a squad player. great points I will now follow you if you take the time to produce this stuff

  4. Sorry but he has not impressed me… he is a passenger … weak and at best a squad player for a mid table team…. the bench mark is a midfield of Alonso , Gerrard and Mascherano not Henderson , Can and W’ndrum…
    And 2 years ago I said ‘ make Coutinho captain and ‘bind’ him to the club …. and I can’t sleep at night thinking about calamity Knaven and Lovren..

  5. I agree we have been spoilt by past midfield players, this group is not a patch on Alonso, Gerrard and Mascherano but that was exceptional.
    As regards Coutinho he was / is bound to the club by a five year contract with no buy out clause !! I personally wonder how much letting Lucas go has upset the equilibrium? Keeping players wives happy and having a “family” group is important but when Barca come knocking not many will turn a deaf ear.

  6. I personally have never been a fan of Lucas playing ability but I do understand the importance of family and or the family setting. I had often said I thought Lucas playing ability was mediocre to average at best but he was an in valuable go between for the players (South Americans especially ) and shouldn’t have been in the way of better younger more mobile players but I would have offered him and still would an ambassadors role in a heartbeat

  7. As for Gini his form was good at the end of last season along with Can and others Henderson is the one that puts us out of whack in my opinion. He isn’t the best fit for the midfield if Kieta comes he must be the obvious one to drop

  8. I remember reading something Gini’s best skill and possibly only major skill is his half turn once he gets the ball, he can use his body to shield the ball, turn and run and/or pass. That usually happens when teams try to play us honestly, press high up the pitch, mostly big teams and teams last fall before they realized they can’t match up with us chance for chance and needed to park the bus. By sitting back teams have neutralized Gini as he isn’t a player that’s good at threading the ball thru like our other midfielders can. It would also explain his mostly strong play in big games, as big teams try to play us straight up and he can utilize his best skills. Klopp knows this, it’s why he tried to get Keita and his thru ball and key pass ability.


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