Over the last year or so, Liverpool have had an exceptional record in tying down their key players to new deals.
Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane — among others — have all penned new contracts to see them remain at Anfield for the foreseeable future.
Absent from that list of renewals, however — despite being just as key a cog to the Reds’ winning machine as the aforementioned striking trio — has been Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
Since moving to the club in the summer of 2016 from Newcastle United, Wijnaldum has become an exemplar of the tactical discipline and athletic prowess Jurgen Klopp values in his engine room.
The former Feyenoord and PSV player’s morphing into a conscientious and scrupulous midfield general is all the more impressive, given the Dutch international arrived at Anfield as a goal scoring midfielder, a role he still fulfils to great aplomb for his national team; where he has scored 18 goals in 61 caps.
Although Wijnaldum’s function in the team — providing coverage for Liverpool’s attacking full backs, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold, and using his spatial awareness and tactical intelligence to cut out opponent’s counter attack’s at source — is generally subtle in nature, his impact hasn’t gone unnoticed among his peers.
Speaking to Goal, Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry was effusive in his praise of the 29 year old.
“Georginio Wijnaldum. When I watch Liverpool games, he’s everywhere. He works in the background, bridging the spaces between defence and midfield and has a very large impact on the Liverpool game,” the forward said when asked who the 6 times European Champions’ most important player is.
But now, with no new contract seemingly on the horizon, Klopp may have to plan for life without the Dutchman, whose contract expires in two seasons time at which point he will be 31 years old.
That means a scenario where Wijnaldum leaves the club in the next year or so possible, an eventuality that no Liverpool fan would welcome but may possibly have to come to terms with.
To replace the Netherlands international won’t be an easy task, but one player the Anfield side may consider is Red Bull Leipzig’s Austrian midfielder Marcel Sabitzer.
The hard working 26 year old winger has been a key component of Julian Nagelsmann’s side’s Bundesliga challenge — where has made 25 appearances and bagged eight goals and laid on five assists — and their progression to the Champions League quarter finals after they comprehensively brushed Tottenham aside 4-0 on aggregate.
Playing wide in the East German’s 3412 amorphous formation, Sabitzer is also comfortable playing through the centre of the pitch and has played 7 times as a conventional central midfielder this term; five times in the Bundesliga and twice in the European Cup.
Possessing a creative flair, the Austrian international — who has added 8 assists in all competitions this season — averages 2.24 key passes per 90. Perhaps most importantly in any hypothetical where Sabitzer replaces Wijnaldum is the former Rapid Vienna players work rate and defensive acumen and commitment. This season, the Leipzig number 7 averages 1.2 tackles and 0.8 interceptions per game across all competitions.
In football, it is difficult to just supplant players from one tactical scheme to another and expect them to play at a similar level when they are being asked to fulfil totally different obligations.
It is encouraging, then, that Leipzig and Liverpool have a similar approach and subscribe to the school of counterpressing, high intensity football. Although there are differences and may take some time to adjust to, Sabitzer is well versed in the type of football of Klopp, Pepin Lijnders’ and co. employ at Anfield and that would help him acclimate to the demands placed on him quicker.
By all accounts, the Reds are interested in Leipzig forward Timo Werner and will trigger his release clause ahead of a transfer for next season — whenever that will be in the coronavirus paused footballing campaign — and they would be well advised to make it a double deal and also take Sabitzer to England’s north-west.