Dominant Wijnaldum must continue in No.6 role for Liverpool
A victory, at long last.
Liverpool are finally back to winning ways in the Premier League for the first time since December 19th, and what a performance they produced at Tottenham.
When Fabinho was nowhere to be seen in the starting lineup, the levels of anxiety went through the roof, with more dropped points appearing likely.
Similarly, Son Heung-min’s early ‘goal’ led to that all too familiar sinking feeling returning to the stomach, only for the Reds to be given a rare VAR reprieve.
From that point on, the champions were near-faultless, though, comprehensively outplaying Spurs and fully justifying three of their most precious points of the season so far.
This week feels particularly defining for Liverpool, with tricky back-to-back away games against Spurs and West Ham potentially showing if a title challenge is possible, or if a top four finish could even be a struggle.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have hurdled their first assignment in imperious fashion and another win against an in-form Hammers side on Sunday would feel even more significant.
There were numerous reasons for Liverpool’s victory in north London, whether it be the much improved form of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino, the silky class of Thiago or the evergreen brilliance of James Milner.
Klopp’s main tactical tweak saw him deploy Gini Wijnaldum in the No.6 role – Milner was also deep – with Thiago used as a No.8, or even as part of two ‘dual 10s’ with Firmino, as Sam McGuire discusses HERE.
It proved to be a masterstroke from the manager, with the Dutchman a colossal figure throughout at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, growing with each passing minute.
For all his many plus points as a footballer, one thing aimed at Wijnaldum as a negative is his inability to affect games in the final third from midfield.
A master at retaining possession and doing the dirty work that often goes unnoticed, at his worst he can look devoid of creativity, too often opting for the safe pass.
Using him in a deeper role alleviated this issue perfectly at Spurs, with Wijnaldum able to show off his tactical intelligence, ball retention and physicality, without being lacking other key areas.
For the most part, he wasn’t required to be a creative hub, meaning keeping things simple received less flak, and he looked at home in the role.
Wijnaldum completed 85 percent of his passes, won six out of seven duels and made an eye-catching 12 recoveries overall, as he shone in and out of possession.
Not only that, but Thiago was given more freedom in the middle of the park, resulting in a more influential display from the Spaniard.
Too often lately, the 29-year-old’s world-class ability has been wasted, with Klopp playing him too deep and opponents adopting low blocks given an easy ride.
Against Spurs, however, Thiago threatened wreak havoc further up the pitch, and while it wasn’t necessarily a vintage performance, he looked far more effective.
Just stop those slide tackles, please.
Wijnaldum was so impressive on Thursday that it would now be a big surprise if Klopp shuffled his pack and didn’t continue using him as a No.6, starting at West Ham.
Playing him there doesn’t take much away from his effectiveness as a footballer, as well as bringing out more in others, with Jordan Henderson also far better with more freedom, once he is able to return to midfield.
Eventually, Liverpool will find themselves in a position where Fabinho will be able to revert to the defensive midfield position he has made his own, but the Reds’ centre-back crisis suggests that likely won’t happen until next season.
The same could even apply with Henderson – that’s how ridiculous this situation is.
What the Spurs victory showed, however, is that Wijnaldum is the next-best thing in front of the defence after Fabinho, in what was a wonderful performance from him.
These are the displays that make you realise how painful it will be to possibly lose the 30-year-old in the summer, with his versatility, quality and consistency all priceless.