Gini Wijnaldum: The Vital Cog in the Machine

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When Liverpool signed Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle in the Summer of 2016, did anyone really expect him to become Liverpool’s number six during their best start to a season in their history?

No, of course, they didn’t. And yet, here we are.

What Liverpool fans did believe they were signing was a talented, if not sometimes ethereal attacker who could also be deployed as the more reserved #10 in a midfield three – as he was deployed at PSV. The Dutchman had an impressive goal record at Newcastle – albeit with a tendency to favour the nets at St. James Park – and even captained the Eredivisie side that he helped guide to a title.

An impressive resume, and yet it’s fair to assume that not once in that lead-up to playing under Jürgen Klopp did he expect to be playing centre-half in the Premier League.

Yet here we are.

Gini Wijnaldum’s Liverpool career is a double-faceted one: he has once labelled a ghost-like presence in away matches and was widely perceived as the most anonymous facet of Liverpool’s favoured 4-3-3 system.

Except that as that system continued to evolve, and Jürgen Klopp continued to develop his side’s identity, Gini Wijnaldum was – and is – his mainstay.

In fact, he’s made more Premier League starts (60) in the previous two seasons than James Milner (52), Jordan Henderson (49) and Emre Can (50). Why? Because he does the work that doesn’t get noticed until he’s in a position where it does.

Take the recent pair of games: against Southampton, he wasn’t particularly necessary; the midfield wasn’t challenged by Saints and he was recycling possession as the front three waited for spaces to open up. Perhaps this was one of his less noticeable games, where he simply went about his business unheralded. What that performance followed, however, was a PSG midfield trying to take the game to Liverpool’s.

Wijnaldum was unfazed.

Adrien Rabiot was linked to Liverpool prior to his side’s Champions League clash with the Reds, and yet he was thoroughly outclassed by his opposite number in the middle of the park: as Wijnaldum held off any imposition that the Frenchman and his brethren could attempt, broke up play diligently, and was superb at spreading the ball quickly.

It was a performance not unlike those he’s been producing consistently, but only when the game suited that kind of player. That is where the crux lies: Klopp has built a machine that relies on the collective functioning as a whole, and some cogs in that machine are in the limelight more than others.

One of the men whose arrival threatened the position of Wijnaldum this summer: Naby Keita, is a far more noticeable cog: he’s flashier, more effective at bringing the ball forward, and more dynamic, but will perform a different role because Wijnaldum’s role in this side is unique, and clearly vital to the way Klopp wants his team to play.

It stands to reason that Wijnaldum’s influence is only properly seen when a team comes out and plays aggressively against Klopp’s Liverpool outfit: hence why he was so clearly impressive against PSG and Spurs – a game which also saw his first away goal in the Premier League.

But as Leroy Mah put in his piece for Anfield Index some months ago, that doesn’t mean his role is one that can be sacrificed when a smaller side comes to Anfield and parks the bus: it’s the intangible movements and recycling of the ball that matters in those games: traits which don’t immediately jump off the screen to a viewer. Indeed, his pass success rates (the highest of any Liverpool midfielder) over the last two seasons are 90% (2017/18) and 87% (2016/17) – he might not make the devastatingly incisive through ball, but his will be the one that leads to that pass.

As Klopp himself puts it:

“It’s important [as a No.6] that you don’t follow the ball or offer runs in behind when we have enough players to do that. We need a few reasonable persons on the pitch, if you want, and Gini has shown he can switch between both.”

Those comments followed a performance against Brighton in which Wijnaldum misplaced one of his 76 passes in the ninety minutes and was heralded as Liverpool’s best player on the day.

So, there will be days where he won’t get the plaudits, days where he doesn’t particularly stand out. But there’ll also be days like the ones seen in the last month, where Gini Wijnaldum is the most vital of cogs in Liverpool’s machine.

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  1. What a load of bollocks! Recycling of the ball ….. does that mean passing it 3 yards backward to the nearest player? He is average at best and is on a par with Henderson. I just can’t understand why he is being hyped up this season. I know that football is a game of opinions ….. but come on!

  2. Gini in my humble opinion is far more effective than Henderson and to make a point than another defensive mid whom Pool fans raved about in Lucas whomy was and still is the king of side ,back and stupid 3 yard passes but I’m sure you loved him and probably still do.
    Having said that it is your right to like players and the styles that suit or catch your eye. Quick point of reference Henderson learned understudy to whom? None other than Lucas imagine that (sheepishly grinning) . Same can be said for defenders that learned under Carra. He defended by backing up into his own area before throwing in a tackle (watch Henry’s goal invincible season against us then start watching other games) the players who were influencedoing by him did the same instead of standing firm and tackling higher up field out of range of a penalty call and or even a free kick specialist if a miss timed tackle is produced. Watch the difference in the defense now days. Just saying you learn from the person ahead of you.
    Which is why Gini tends to pick the ball up and look forward first but if not on uses it smartly. It’s also why Henderson had the odd good game vs PSG. He actually was going forward instead of back and side but reverted instantly the next game hence the Henderson we all know returned .

  3. I really dont understand some of our fans.

    Fair enough if they dont have the knowledge or understanding of the game and as is mentioned in a comment above it’s a game of opinions.

    But when Klopp himself continues to play Gini in this role ahead of a very talented DM in Fabinho or indeed more than Can when he played the role, it does suggest that he is playing as Klopp wants him to play.

    Same for Henderson – there’s so much evidence recently what Henderson brings to Liverpool, and England too, and yet some are so blinkered they cannot see this.

    In both cases if I shared the viewpoint of the comments from Joe Baker or red Panther then in light of recent comments from the manager and their recent performances I’d shut up about criticising them and think that maybe I’d need to reconsider my opinion

    In central midfield which team offers more ? Man Utd midfielders of Fellaini and Matic? Seriously? (Pogba is effecitvely a n10, created a nice goal but created a nice opportunity for the opposition too) Fred is a decent player but should be compared to Milner or Keita, could Fred play n10, n6 as well as his n8 postion – no chance.
    City have a great midfield but they are linked to a slower posession based game and not Klopp’s blood and thunder approach, Fernandinho – fantastic for any team. Gundogan, great player but doesn’t have the physical attributes to run as is required with our approach to the game – perhaps the posters above feel we should change Klopp’s approach, that it is not improving us?

    Spurs, ahead of us the past 2 years, rely on Dire, nuff said, and Henderson is chosen ahead of him for his country, so that’s another manager that thinks the world of Henderson, but of course Joe and Red Panther know more.

    Jorginho, is lauded, unbelieveable stats. But not a forward run or a defensive tackle – play him againt PSG ahead of Henderson and we would have lost (and if you thnk Henderson and Gini just do sideways and recycling passes …). Kante, world’s best DM, but cant score or be trusted to build out the play as Henderson and Gini do.
    Perhaps we want a DM who passes it forward and scores spectacular goals? Maybe that’s what Joe and Red Panther want – somebody like…I give you Granit Xhaka! Oh, wait a moment.

    Given what these guys are doing for us I honestly do not understand the reactions on the comments above. It seems a great example of the Dunning Kruger Syndrome

  4. In 2016/17 he had the most assists in our side too. He is a role player basically – put him in a functioning midfield like his trio with Lallana & Hendo that season, and you see everything to his game. Put him in a dysfunctional midfield and as the most tactically intelligent individual, he will be the one working to solve the dysfunction. The water carrier if you will.

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