Outside The Box Option Can Provide Wing Depth
Liverpool fell to yet another pre-season defeat on Sunday as they were soundly beaten 3-0 by Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium.
The performance was anaemic and sloppy and the Reds made a team who are two weeks behind them in preparations for the new season look far sharper and fluent.
An interesting element of the line-up Jurgen Klopp started the game with was his use of Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as the wide players — sandwiching Divock Origi — in the front three of his 433 tactical shape.
Not that you’d know why from watching the game, with Liverpool rarely threatening the underworked Napoli keeper, Alex Meret, but Klopp may use Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain as part of the front three again in the season proper. And as is the case so often with the German, there is a method to his madness.
In the case of Wijnaldum, this is a roll of the dice that the German may be prepared to use next season. With Xherdan Shaqiri and Mohamed Salah to return for the right-wing slot, it is unlikely that Oxlade-Chamberlain will feature in the front three next season.
Tactically intelligent and hard-working, Wijnaldum arrived at Anfield as a goal-scoring midfield cum second striker before Klopp moulded him into defensively savvy link midfielder that was a cog in Liverpool’s Champions League-winning campaign of 2018/2019.
Despite the former Feyenoord and Newcastle player’s adaptation to Klopp’s bespoke tactical plan, Wijnaldum — as evidenced by his form with the Netherlands and the sporadic occasions the Reds have used him in an attacking berth — can still make a contribution to Liverpool’s front three.
Playing off the forward for the Ronald Koeman coached Netherlands, Wijnaldum, 28, scored three goals in eight international appearances in 2018/2019.
When you weigh up the Reds’ number five’s best physical and technical attributes, pace, power, finishing and a surprisingly good aerial ability, it is clear to see why Klopp — who values these abilities in his forwards, more than any others — could turn to Wijnaldum to cover the left-hand side of his front three.
It’s not as if the Dutch international, capped 54 times, hasn’t played in that area for the Reds before. On New Years Eve 2016, Wijnaldum, who swapped the role in the game with Adam Lallana, scored the winner in Liverpool’s 1-0 home victory over Manchester City at Anfield.
Showing his deceptively good aerial leap, the 5’9” midfielder powered above Aleksandar Kolarov to power home a Lallana cross.
The 2016 winner against Man City, of course, wasn’t the only big game in which Wijnaldum has made a telling contribution by scoring a header.
After an almost interminable wait for an away goal, the Dutchman of Surinamese origin glanced in a header from a corner in Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final victory away to Roma in 2018.
A few months later, the £25,000,000 arrival from Newcastle United was it again; scoring a header from a corner past his compatriot, Michel Vorm, in the Reds’ 2-1 win away to Tottenham Hotspurs.
The most memorable goal Wijnaldum has scored for the club, however, was his second goal in Liverpool’s never to be forgotten 4-0 Champions League semi-final over Barcelona at Anfield in 2019.
With the aggression of a player who had been dropped for a massive game — the Dutchman played as the false 9 in the Nou Camp the week previous — Wijnaldum rose to attack a Xherdan Shaqiri cross from the left-hand side and blasted a header past Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal.
With Liverpool’s full back’s, Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson, their chief creators — amassing 23 league assists between them last season — having an aerial presence such as Wijnaldum stationed in the front three will provide the duo with a different, more physical option to aim their crosses at.
Another benefit of having the 2014-2015 Dutch Footballer of the year on the left-wing would be the defensive coverage he would provide for the marauding full-backs, thanks to his athleticism, tactical nous and hard-working attitude.
Sadio Mane is indisputably Liverpool’s number one left-winger, and, by all accounts, Klopp is looking to add another player to that position before the season starts. But if Liverpool sporadically turned to Wijnaldum to fill a gap on the left-wing next season, they could do far worse