When we talk about the players behind Liverpool FC's unprecedented surge towards the league title this season, the names that top the list are the attacking triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino or the colossal figures of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker or even Jordan Henderson following his near-flawless performances over the past few months. But, like in every team, there is a player who may not have a direct influence on the game but whose presence is priceless. A player who doesn't get credited enough for his efforts. A player who is happy to let his teammates thrive off of him. One such player for Liverpool is Georginio Wijnaldum.
Wijnaldum ended his lone season at Newcastle United as the leading scorer with 11 goals. Unfortunately, Newcastle got relegated from the Premier League. He was adamant to play in the top flight and so Newcastle had to involuntarily allow him to sign for Liverpool. Having flourished in a free midfield role or a No. 8 position for Newcastle, Liverpool fans believed that he could be the next Steven Gerrard but manager Jurgen Klopp had other ideas.
He deployed Wijnaldum in a three-man or at times a two-man midfield and asked him to play as a holding defensive midfielder. Wijnaldum struggled to fit into Klopp's system because his role in the squad now was to prevent goals rather than scoring them. But, Klopp believed that the Dutchman had enough aggression, stamina, and a high work rate to do so. He looked out of place in the first few matches and wasn't ready to shoulder any defensive responsibilities. But Klopp trusted his instincts and continued to play him as a defensive midfielder. The German once said of his Dutch midfielder,
"He can play a few positions and players that come through the Dutch system usually have a good tactical understanding."
Wijnaldum, playing out of position, completed his first season at Anfield with a praiseworthy tally of 6 league goals and 9 assists. But, he was hugely criticized for failing to score in away games. All of his 11 goals at Tyneside came at home and he had to wait for more than 2 years to score his first away goal for Liverpool. In the 2018-2019 season, he finally got his away goal against AS Roma in the semifinal of the UEFA Champions League. More away goals followed in the league as he scored the opening goal against both Tottenham Hotspur and Cardiff City.
But, with the arrival of both Fabinho and Naby Keita, a midfield overhaul was predicted and Wijnaldum was tipped to be the one sent to the bench. But, he has taken his game to another level ever since and has become Klopp's go-to-man for all occasions. He has grown into the defensive midfield role and is now one of the most consistent and reliable players for Liverpool. He is very slick on the ball and can use his body to turn out of any dangerous situation and is extremely press-resistant. Also, he had a passing accuracy of 91% last season.
Wijnaldum might not be the flashiest midfielder around but his willingness to adapt to any role in midfield makes him the most important player in the team. His primary work in Klopp's system is to sit in front of the back four, win the ball back, and start the counter-attack. He acts as the link between the defenders and attackers. But when he was asked to play as an attacking midfielder in the second leg of the UCL semi-final against Barcelona, he accepted the challenge and went onto score two in two minutes. Klopp hailed the Dutchman as the perfect midfielder.
He is an outstanding player. He combines a lot of things that you need. On a one-on-one situation, he can keep the body between the opponent and the ball, then pass the ball. I don't know how many positions he has played. He can play all three positions in midfield and that is really nice.
Here's Wijnaldum's heroics against Barcelona on that special Champions League night.
Although the number of goals and assists have reduced over the years, he still remains the most enigmatic player going forward among the midfield trio. Unsurprisingly, the No. 5 has made one of the highest number of appearances for Klopp's Liverpool. When he arrived at Liverpool in 2016, he was touted for great things and he has certainly lived upto it.Published 21 Feb 2020, 12:43 IST