Any right-minded Liverpool fan will agree that Georginio Wijnaldum has been an integral part of Liverpool’s resurgence under Jurgen Klopp.
Either subtlely — think his defensive acumen allowing the Reds’ full-backs, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold — or directly — the mind directly goes to the Dutchman’s double in Liverpool’s 4-0 Champions League semi-final victory over Barcelona in 2019 — Wijnaldum has had an influential hand in the club’s recent successes.
However, with his contract dwindling down and no prospect of a new deal on the horizon, it could be time for Klopp to curtail the Netherlands international’s minutes in favour of a player whom he can call upon next season.
It is tempting to assume that Wijnaldum’s recent run of fallow form is due to the 30-year-old dialling it in and mentally checking out before moving to pastures new. The truth is more like that the number 5 — given his consumate professionalism — has paid the toll for an energy sapping 3’587 minutes played this season.
Robertson, who has clocked the most playing time during this campaign — a lung busting 3,868 minutes — has also seen his level of performance platueu this season, adding meat to the bone of the theory that Wijnaldum, more than anything else, is suffering from the huge physical demands placed on his shoulders.
Mohamed Salah, who has played the second most minutes — amassing 3,731 minutes in the league in total — has maintained a consistent level of form and this is a glowing testament to the Egyptian’s mentality and physical robustness. Those gym sessions we so often see festooned on Instagram clearly plat dividends for the committed Salah.
Back to Wijnaldum, whatever way you dice it up — whether you’re in the “his mind is elsewhere” camp or you see his ineffective run of performances as a natural consequence of playing so often in such a condensed season — his form has been poor of late, no more so than agaisnt Newcastle United last weekend.
Against his former club, the Dutchman was overly safe and meek on the ball — his registering of 57/57 successful passes in the first half was championed by some, but, in reality, it was a damning indictment of his risk averse use of the ball — and his lack of defensive awareness, usually one of his biggest strengths, allowed the visitors to scythe through the Reds’ midfield on several occassions.
Newcastle, as evidenced by their lowly position in the table, are a poor side and, despite creating several huge chances, Liverpool failed to put them away, drawing 1-1 and potentially ruining their Champions League qualification hopes in the process.
Rightly, the toothless front line — where Salah, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino — drew much of the ire of a hugely frustrated fanbase. But the fact that the Magpies created so many openings, they even had a goal harshly disallowed by a handball by Callum Wilson, was a huge cause of concern.
Wijnaldum, who appeared to get lost in the shuffle and existed on the periphery of the game, was culpable for much of the midfield’s collective failings, especially given his partner in the engine room — Thiago, whose substitution changed the momentum of the game — was supberb throughout.
It’s not like Klopp — who has so often operated this season with both hands tied behind his back, due to injuries and circumstances — has huge options to work with. But when Nat Phillips returns from injury, the best course of action could be to retain the 4231 shape Liverpool started the Newcastle game with and partner Fabinho with Thiago in midfield.
Curtis Jones has enjoyed a breakthrough season with the Reds and his shown himself more than capable to a reliable part of the squad next season. It would be logical to allow the 20-year-old to play frequently between now and the season’s end in order for him to further his development. After all, Jones’ future will be at Liverpool; Wijnaldum’s won’t.
The Dutchman can look back at his Anfield career with huge pride and he will be missed when he moves on, but it may be time to start the goodbyes now.