I’m not usually a fan of criticising or singling out a player for a poor performance – especially considering the reactionary nature of some Liverpool supporters on social media or at the stadium.
However, a string of below-par performances simply cannot be ignored. And in Georginio Wijnaldum’s case, it’s no different. The Rotterdam-born central midfielder has a dexterous side to his game, but he also at times fails to stand up and be counted.
The Dutchman signed for Liverpool in July 2016 for £22million. This transfer was on many pundits’ radar, as this was seen as an excessive price tag, for a player that had emerged from a relegation side and from many people’s point of view, it was another expensive mistake from the club in the transfer market.
There’s no doubting his qualities – in big games when the Reds have needed him, he has consistently stepped up to the plate with authoritative and urgent performances. His off-the-ball movement has also impressed in these games: notably against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham at home last campaign (and more recently at home vs Manchester United). Wijnaldum managed 15 G/As in 36 Premier League games he featured in last season, which is fairly respectable for a central midfielder deployed slightly deeper than he was at former club Newcastle.
However, on the other hand, his performances against smaller sides at home and away are a complete juxtaposition of this. In contrast, the 26-year-old is far too conservative in his movement, passing and decision making – which has ultimately been the factor that has resulted in his inconsistent form at times for both Newcastle and Liverpool. Many of his more loyal backers will tell you this is down to Klopp not deploying him in an offensive role that he was given at Newcastle, whilst his detractors will tell you he simply cannot stamp his authority where the rest fail to step up.
The 2017/18 season has not been any different for Wijnaldum. Many had hoped that manager Jurgen Klopp could work his magic on the Dutchman and mould him into more of a consistent player against deep-block sides, but that is yet to take effect under the German. In fact, the ex-PSV midfielder seems more pedestrian than ever in the Red shirt.
In the summer, it was announced the much-sought after central midfielder Naby Keita would be joining next summer from RB Leipzig – with the Reds still having to wait another season for the Guinean midfielder to join the likes of Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho in the midfield ranks.
And the 22-year-old’s arrival could not come sooner. The Merseysiders appeared to be lacking in midfield guile early on in the season without Philippe Coutinho against the likes of Watford and Crystal Palace, with Wijnaldum failing to provide the industry and balance in the midfield that Klopp demands from him.
It’s possible to make a case that the only games he has performed credibly in was the fixture at home to Hoffenheim in the Champions League, as well as the 4-0 win over Arsenal in August. Even then, his case was arguably helped by Gunners midfielder Aaron Ramsey operating slightly higher up the pitch in that encounter at Anfield, leaving DM Granit Xhaka exposed.
At times, it is a conundrum with the Dutch midfielder. It does beggar belief as to how he seizes the opportunity versus big sides at home, but cannot reciprocate this against sides lower in the table. The stats are damning – he has only had 43 shots away from home last season compared to the 77 he has had at home. Therefore, his xG is sizeably lower by 6.51. Even though Wijnaldum did create a big chance every 331 minutes last season; the highest out of any current Liverpool player, this is another example of statistics not always painting the whole picture.
This is partially down to him either not being able to find the half-spaces to exploit against deep-lying sides, or a lack of desire to do so. Either way, it is certainly frustrating – and the 26-year-old will definitely have to stand up and be counted soon or be dropped at the expense of Adam Lallana (when he returns from injury) or utility man James Milner.
The latter already showed his professionalism in midweek against Maribor in the Champions League, having 120 touches on the ball, more than any other player in the game. He also divulged a more direct and efficient side to his game throughout – something which could be more valuable against deep block sides away from home this season.
The former, Lallana, has been missing through injury since August. The national team have missed his quality in midfield, and the Reds could do with his energy and instigation of pressing in big games when he returns.
All the aforementioned qualities is what Gini Wijnaldum has failed to produce on a consistent basis throughout this season. There is no doubting the importance and influence the former Newcastle man can have on a game, but simply put – he has plundered in producing influential performances this season consistently. And whilst this may seem like a kneejerk article, the message has to be clear from Klopp to Wijnaldum – stand up, or be dropped at the expense of others.