On 17th May 2015, as PSV Eindhoven’s game with ADO Den Haag entered injury time in the Kyocera Stadium, Georginio Wijnaldum scored to give the Rood-Witten a late goal and, subsequently, a 2-3 win. PSV were already champions and the Dutchman was soon to be on his way to the Premier League, but that goal would become significant in his career. It was to be the last time that he would score an away goal in a domestic match.
Since then he has played 79 times for Newcastle United and Liverpool and has only scored at St James’s Park and Anfield, albeit 17 times. This is just weird.
So when he joined the Reds in the summer of 2016 his ‘home alone goals’ oddity was used as a stick to beat him. ‘Don’t expect him to put a shift in away from home,’ they said. ‘He got eleven last season and they were all on his own pitch.’
At the time this struck me as an odd accusation. A Liverpool midfielder knocking in 11 goals at any location, never mind Anfield, would be beyond our wildest dreams. The highest scoring midfielder in 2015-16 – excluding Coutinho, who drifted between the lines or played on the left of a forward three – were Milner (including penalties) and Lallana with seven goals apiece, so Gini was seen as a strong option. 11 goals at home in one season? I’ll take that all day.
And he started well here too, scoring six in his first season. The first being a tap-in at Watford in which he celebrated in a manner which made Marco Tardelli look like Steve McManaman. Then he scored vital goals against Chelsea and Man City, but the final and most important strike came in the Middlesbrough rout – a result which saw the lads fall across the line to a Champions League qualifier.
So, he doesn’t score away goals. Well, that’s fine as long as his performances are up to snuff.
Ah, but there we have a problem.
We’ve had no goals this season, but, alarmingly, he’s not really been on his mettle either. Okay, he was good against Arsenal – fair enough – but everyone was good against them thanks to the Gunners’ midfield policy of abandoning their stations, not bothering with tracking runs or tackling. I could have managed decent stats against that lot.
Instead he’s either made some silly errors or just appeared a little off the pace. His weak header at Vicarage Road led to the almost inevitable equaliser in a game where he’d already be quiet, while he was so anonymous at the Etihad that I honestly thought he was on the bench. Seriously, I thought Jurgen might bring him on for the second half.
Obviously, he’s not solely to blame for the City debacle. The whole side caved in once Sadio was dismissed and Klopp more or less threw the towel in too come the break, but it’s becoming clear that away grounds are a problem for him. There’s the old adage of ‘not being able to do it at Stoke on a cold Tuesday night’ which I’ve always considered to be a myth, but in Gini’s case it’s not just the Potteries where he struggles, it’s everywhere outside L4. Maybe the calm, soothing tones of George Sephton or the nearby waft of Homebaked’s pies bring out the best in him, in the same way Popeye takes strength from cans of spinach. It’s got to be something.
I say this because in all my years of watching Liverpool and world football I’ve never seen such a disparity of performances between home and away games. Don’t get me wrong, when Gini is on it he’s unstoppable. He has a knack of allowing the ball time to roll across his body before finding a pass rather than getting rid of it immediately (Henderson) or taking it on a surging run (Emre). He’s a wonderful midfielder who can use space in such an unhurried manner in the one area of the pitch where there is no time at all. That’s a rare gift and one that the club can utilise.
Furthermore, he’s scored some beauties, including my favourite goal of last season. I still watch that City header during dark nights of the soul and it instantly cheers me up. Also, as a Ray Kennedy obsessive, I’m particularly pleased that we have a lad who came from the North East and wears a number 5 on his back playing for Liverpool.
So, it’s such a disappointment that this happens.
The player himself disagrees. Speaking in March he said:
“That is people’s opinion. I think I also play good in away games – especially this season. It is funny, because last season we didn’t perform at a level as a whole team in away games for Newcastle but I was the only one who got the complaints. It is a team thing and no one can do it by themselves. People expect more from you than other players, but we have to be realistic. If a whole team doesn’t perform you cannot pick one player especially and say, ‘He doesn’t do this or do that’. It is a fault of the whole team if you don’t deliver.”
There’s something in that, of course, but it does seem that when he’s quiet then so are the Reds. The Sevilla game is a game in point. Despite the awful opening ten minutes Liverpool grew stronger and stronger and it was Gini’s run on the right which led to the first goal. ‘He’s back,’ I thought. Then in the second half when Liverpool slowed and began to second guess themselves, he returned to his shell. That said, his stabbed shot directly at the keeper was unlucky, but it was the first I’d seen of him in 15 minutes. When he goes missing then so do Liverpool.
This isn’t down to lack of effort or skill. Gini is a tremendous player. I just wonder if he’s simply uncomfortable on new grounds. Ordinarily you’d say that he can be intimidated by the atmosphere or something yet he still managed to score in the World Cup Third Place play off against Brazil IN Brazil and if he can do it there …
It’s not as if the Reds set up differently away from home either. We only really have the one strategy – all-out attack. Jurgen doesn’t play any narrower or compact away from home, nor does Gini sit any deeper than he does at Anfield. It’s just very, very strange.
Of course, it’s not really a problem just yet as Mane, Firmino and Salah are bagging so many upfront, but it does make me wonder if one deflection off his arse will result in floodgates opening. Please let it be soon though.
We go to Newcastle away soon. A ground he knows well. Maybe he should just try shooting from anywhere once he’s settled in. You never know.
It not often that football flummoxes you, but this strange little quirk is certainly one.