Why Gini Being Let Out Of His Bottle Would Boost Liverpool
It wouldn’t be an international break in the last year or so without two things happening.
One, Liverpool fans worrying about any of their stars being injured in a meaningless friendly on the other side of the globe; or two, the timelines of Reds fans being festooned with clips of Georginio Wijnaldum plundering goals for the Dutch national team.
The Netherlands manager, Ronald Koeman invariably plays Wijnaldum as the most advanced midfielder, ahead of Frenkie De Jong and Marten de Roon, in the Oranje’s engine room.
And to say that this midfield composition has bore fruit would be an understatement, with the Liverpool number five being a particular beneficiary.
Since October of 2018, the former Newcastle United player has netted sevens times for the Dutch. There is a danger to overhype players’ contributions in the international football arena — with the discrepancy in quality between sides often huge — but Wijnaldum has netted against quality opposition as well as the fodder.
Added to goals against Estonia and Belarus, the 28-year-old has scored against World Champions France and twice against the 2014 winners and the Netherlands’ biggest rivals, Germany.
A much-repeated criticism of Liverpool’s midfield is their inability to score goals — the Reds only managed six in the league last season, many of which were James Milner penalties — but the international exploits of the Feyenoord academy product could give Jurgen Klopp food for thought.
In 2016/2017, his debut season for the club, Wijnaldum scored six non-set-piece goals in the Premier League as he played a more advanced midfield role to the primarily defensive midfield glue role that he currently occupies.
The fact that the Dutchman can play so effectively in either role is a testament to his versatility, but he can offer so much more in a goal-scoring sense.
Interestingly, this season was also Adam Lallana’s most profitable goal scoring campaign for the club, with the former Southampton man netting eight league goals.
Two of the advanced number 8’s having their best goal-scoring season’s for the club in the same season was no coincidence, given the tactical makeup of the side that sealed Champions League qualification.
On the left-hand side for the Reds was James Milner, filling in at left-back, and Phillipe Coutinho. What the duo lacked in pace and width, they made up for with giving an option between the lines that let the central midfielders play higher up the pitch and closer to the opposition goal.
Sadio Mane and Andrew Robertson are an upgrade on both Milner and Coutinho on the European Champions’ left flank, but Liverpool can replicate some of the fluid interplay of 2016 and midfield goals — which saw Wijnaldum thrive — by giving Naby Keita an extended run in the side.
The Guinean midfielder, thanks to a spate of injuries, has had a stop-start beginning to life as a Liverpool player, made his first meaningful appearance of the season away to Manchester United last Sunday.
The former RB Leipzig man had a positive impact, providing an option between the lines for Liverpool to pass to and add more variety to their build-up than the speculative balls into the channels that preceded his introduction.
Keita provided a hockey assist at Old Trafford as his pass to Andy Robertson led to the Scot assisting Lallana for the equalising goal.
The diminutive number 8 was rewarded for his impact off the bench with a start away to Genk in the Champions League and he did not disappoint.
On both sides of the ball, the 24-year-old impressed. Keita registered the most forward passes in the game, with 110. These passes weren’t staid or unambitious either, with 29 coming in the final third which was the highest on the pitch.
The jinking dribbling style that played a part in convincing Liverpool to part with £50,000,000 for the Guinean was also on display as he completed the most take on’s on the night, with three.
Off the ball, too, Keita contributed, registering the most ball recoveries, 12, and winning the most tackles, 3.
The universality provided by the former FC Istres player provided Alex Oxlade Chamberlain the assurance to push further up the field and notch a brace of goals.
Oxlade Chamberlain’s second goal — as brilliant as it was by the England international — was thanks in part to his midfield comrade.
Keita, from just outside the box, dug out a difficult and ambitious ball to Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian then teed up the former Southampton man to shoot. Like a vintage Ricardo Quaresma style outside of the foot trivella, the ex-Arsenal player finished into the top corner off the crossbar.
Against Genk, Oxlade Chamberlain benefited from the Guinean’s midfield creativity and vision. Going forward, Wijnaldum could replicate his international form with the Reds with Keita pulling the midfield strings.