Colossal Wijnaldum an early contender for Liverpool’s Player of the Year

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Liverpool are suffering an injury crisis like never before, with the footballing Gods seemingly furious about them winning the Premier League title at long last.

Just when the Reds look primed to seal back-to-back crowns, a mixture of fitness woes and inexplicable VAR decisions are doing their best to halt their progress.

Jurgen Klopp has almost an entire starting XI out injured currently, with matches coming thick and fast and young quintet Caoimhin Kelleher, Neco Williams, Nathaniel Phillips, Rhys Williams and Curtis Jones all used more than the manager would have hoped back in the summer.

Whether it’s Alisson, Virgil van Dijk or Thiago, Liverpool are without world-class figures everywhere you look, and it is a great achievement in itself that the Reds are currently joint-top of the Premier League and have already reached the last-16 of the Champions League.

If there is one player who has stood tallest during this thorough examination of Liverpool’s credentials, it’s Gini Wijnaldum.

Andy Robertson isn’t far behind in that respect, but Wijnaldum has been colossal throughout the season, particularly in the last month or so.

While so many around him have been in the treatment room, his fitness levels have been freakish, playing six matches in the space of 17 days and featuring in every league and European game in 2020/21.

In an era when matches are faster and more physically demanding than ever, that is a remarkable effort from the Dutchman.

He has been used as both a No.6 and a No.8, and in true Wijnaldum fashion, he has gone about his business in a brilliantly understated manner.

You could count on one hand the number of errors he has made, no matter how small, and he has used his experience to crucial effect, with younger players often surrounding him.

As always with Wijnaldum, a lot of the work he has done has been low-key in its excellence, but while that can occasionally be frustrating in certain scenarios, a solid, unassuming presence is exactly what Liverpool have needed lately.

The 30-year-old has enjoyed a pass completion rate of 90.6 percent in the league this season, which is bettered only by Naby Keita (91.7%) when it comes to players who have appeared a minimum of five times.

Away from Liverpool duty, Wijnaldum has also been exceptional for the Netherlands, silencing the naysayers who like to believe he is a limited footballer.

Given more attacking freedom for his country, he scored three times during the November break, meaning he now has 13 goals in his last 20 international appearances.

That perfectly illustrates what a special player Wijnaldum is, with very few midfielders in Europe possessing such tactical intelligence and versatility. He can switch between several different roles seamlessly, fitting into club and international systems with consummate ease.

It is still early days in the campaign, but for sheer input and consistency, Wijnaldum has to be a leading contender for Liverpool’s Player of the Year so far.

As mentioned, Robertson has been similarly dependable, outperforming every other Reds defender and chipping in with a goal and three assists. He isn’t far behind.

Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota are also front-runners, having found the net 10 and nine times respectively, with the former looking as dangerous as ever and the latter making a scintillating start to life at Liverpool.

Fabinho has been superb at centre-back, when available – Joel Matip has also shone there – while Sadio Mane started well, but has tailed off slightly in recent weeks.

The usual candidates have been as reliable as ever when they have been available, too, including Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson.

Every supporter will have their own choice in their minds, but Wijnaldum is certainly in the conversation, and deserves every ounce of praise that is coming his way.

After the win over Ajax on Tuesday night, Klopp said he had “no words” for his magnificent No.5, making it clear how much the world’s best manager rates him.

It may be that Wijnaldum is only fully appreciated when he leaves – probably next summer, by the looks of it – but his influence at Liverpool this season has been phenomenal.

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