Georginio Wijnaldum’s long goodbye finally ended in recent days when it was confirmed that Dutchman would be joining Paris Saint Germain.
After 179 appearances in Liverpool red, Wijnaldum — whose contract at the Anfield club expires at the end of this month — will earn a hefty payday in Paris.
Rumours abound regarding who the Reds will choose to replace the durable former Newcastle linchpin in the centre of their midfield.
Several names have been linked, including Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Florian Neuhaus, with a switch to Anfield, with the common thread being that the players are all on the expensive side of the transfer scale.
But Liverpool — with bigger transfer fish to fry this summer — may opt for a more modest acquisition and, noting Wijnaldum’s unsexy and subtle role in the Merseysiders engine room, such a course of action would be absolutely fine and rooted in solid logic.
Arriving at the Reds as a goalscoring midfielder/second striker, the Netherlands international fulfilled that role in his first season at Anfield, scoring six Premier League goals and adding nine assists as Jurgen Klopp — with Adam Lallana similarly effective in the goalscoring stakes — gave his midfielders the tactical latitude to get forward.
However, as the season progressed Wijnaldum’s responsibility to the team changed. With the emergence of Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson at full-back, Liverpool changed their approach and shifted the creative onus from their midfield to their full-backs.
The Reds’ number 5 tailored his game to suit the team and became a tactically astute, disciplined midfielder whose spatial awareness and supreme physical attributes allowed Alexander Arnold and Robertson bomb forward and contribute to the attack without the team being exposed on the counter.
Predictably, Wijnaldum’s goals and assists dried up. In the four seasons that followed his debut campaign, the Feyenoord youth academy product contributed ten league goals and two assists, which illustrates the greater level of defensive duties placed on his shoulders.
Despite playing attacking football and instructing their full-backs to join the attack, Liverpool — prior to the injury crisis that engulfed them in the 20/21 season — had the best defence in the Premier League for consecutive seasons and this is testament to the intelligence and tactical comprehension of their number 5.
Therefore, if the Reds decide to replace Wijnaldum with a like-for-like profile of player, this would eliminate names like Tielemans from the conversation. The Belgian — whose brilliant long-range goal sealed FA Cup final victory for Leicester last season — is a fine player but lacks the athleticism and, possibly, the selflessness of the Dutchman.
Besides, with Thiago in situ, Liverpool already have a superior player in the midfield playmaker role, and Klopp — who is known for his preference of a midfield with discipline and physical bite — is unlikely to waver away from his tactical policies and include two similar players in the same team, which isn’t to say that the Spaniard doesn’t excel in pressing and the physical elements of the game.
The Reds, at the least, need to sign a talented attacker. With next January’s upcoming Africa Cup of Nations and Mohamed Salah’s likely involvement in the Olympics meaning their already physically taxed forwards will have even more games on their plate, the need to bring in another forward — someone in the mould of a Diogo Jota, who can push the incumbents — is clear.
This would make any move for the likes of Tielemans — who is valued at close to £70M — extremely unlikely, especially with 99% of clubs, with the oil-backed clubs the only exceptions, still reeling from the financial impact of COVID19.
If indeed Liverpool want another Wijnaldum midfield safety valve, then their transfer microscope is likely to focus on more tactically suitable, reasonably priced players and, given their hit rate in the market, you would be hard-pressed to argue with them.