Some footballers will dazzle you, some will amaze you, some will flatter to deceive. Then there’s the underappreciated footballer; the man who does the ugly side of the game with little recognition for his efforts.
Gini Wijnaldum falls into the latter category, quietly going about his business during his two years at the club, showing a plethora of composure and technique. Featuring in the squad for 52 of Liverpool’s 56 games last season, the midfielder made 40 starts alongside ten substitute appearances – a statistic that highlights how integral he’s been to Jurgen Klopp.
However, the summer arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho could restrict Wijnaldum’s game-time for the 2018/19 season, raising ambiguity over his future at the club. The Mirror have reported the player in unhappy at his placing in the pecking order since the new signings and may look for a move away in the coming weeks.
Liverpool though would do wisely to retain the 27-year-old’s services.
Jordan Henderson’s involvement in the World Cup will see him report back for pre-season later than many of his teammates, while the news of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury ruling him out for the entirety of the season leaves James Milner, Adam Lallana and Wijnaldum to battle it out for the third midfield spot.
From a deeper midfield role, Wijnaldum showed his very best. Assured in possession while proactively pressing his opposite numbers into mistakes, reading the play with timely interceptions, he was a more than a suitable stand-in for Emre Can in the No.6 role.
Completing 1.28 tackles per ninety minutes alongside 1.05 interceptions, Klopp could fall back on the No.5 should Fabinho take time to find his feet at Anfield. However, the issue is consistency. Often drifting in and out of games, Wijnaldum has struggled to make an impact across a full season thus far, stuck on the periphery of away games unable to influence and command the middle of the park.
Thus, should Klopp opt not to go back in for Nabil Fekir in what remains of the window, or a suitable alternative for that matter, the Dutchman could still have an important part to play for the campaign ahead.
Wijnaldum operated in all three midfield roles of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 formation last season: a central cog, a holding anchor and a box-to-box supporting midfielder. With 1.62 successful dribbles per ninety minutes and 1.77 touches in the opposition box, he’s got a little bit of everything in his locker.
Such versatility makes him a valuable option to have, allowing Klopp the flexibility to adapt his formation to the opposition knowing full well he can slot in wherever needed.
For instance, Klopp could opt for a trio of Fabinho, Keita and Wijnaldum, giving the Dutchman the task of supporting Liverpool’s exhilarating front-three through incisive passes between the lines. Alternatively, Wijnaldum-Keita-Milner could work with Gini tasked with fulfilling more defensive duties as a blanket to the back-four. Then there’s the box-to-box central role – talk about options.
It’s worth noting that none of the aforementioned three midfield partnerships will be Klopp’s first choice, but they offer insight into the potential flexibility the manager has with Gini and co. around.
Wijnaldum will never be the flashiest midfielder to play for Liverpool and with two new recruits many seem willing to let him flee the nest, but it would be far more fruitful to keep the 27-year-old in the ranks for the upcoming campaign. His versatility and never-say-die attitude is exactly up Klopp’s street after all.