It was only a matter of weeks ago that many doubted whether Georgino Wijnaldum had a role to play at Liverpool. The summer signings of Naby Keita and Fabinho, both for significant transfer fees, immediately raised questions over who would lose their spot in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield three and many suggested that Wijnaldum would be the first to go.
Instead, the Dutchman has become indispensable, producing some of his strongest displays in a Liverpool shirt. Playing in both a number eight and a number six role, Wijnaldum no longer occupies the same more advanced role as last season but rather features in a deeper, playmaker role which also sees him break up play and look to set his team on the attack.
It has been a transition which few expected, particularly with him keeping new arrival Fabinho out of the team as well as the likes of James Milner and Jordan Henderson who have been battling with Naby Keita to find a spot alongside the number five. Yet, it is one that has brought the best out of him.
Making an additional 0.5 tackles per game on average compared to last season, signalling a 50% increase, Wijnaldum has showed that he has no problem in doing the dirty work to get stuck in when required. Up against the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion and Leicester City, he prevented the opposition from ever breaking through without him stifling an attack in the making.
Another significant change in his play is that Wijnaldum is looking to move the ball on quickly, rather than make dribbling runs. An aspect which is essential to Klopp’s rapid style and desire to counter-attack whenever possible, Wijnaldum is dribbling 38% less this season after four games than he was across 2017/18.
“It was always clear that Gini would be in the mix for that position. He can play both. He was brilliant in pre-season as the eight. He was good as the six but brilliant as the eight. That’s why we never had any doubts about that. Gini is a good footballer, the other two [Fabinho and Henderson] are as well.”
That is not to say that Wijnaldum is not getting involved in attack, rather that his contribution has changed. Rather than looking to run forward and exploit spaces, often then making dangerous runs into the box, Wijnaldum now occupies a deeper role and looks to spread the ball about and create opportunities for other.
On average, Wijnaldum is now playing 57.5 passes per game, compared to 37.4 last season, and has also increased his quality in doing so with his pass completion ratio this season at a very impressive 93%, placing him fourth highest in the Premier League for players who have started at least three of the four games played to date.
One of the common criticisms of Wijnaldum’s game in the past has been that he too frequently went missing in the low profile games only to turn up and produce the goods against the big boys. His goals against the likes of Manchester City proved that to a certain extent, but in the opening weeks of this campaign he has been in arguably his best form since joining the club.
Visits to Selhurst Park and the King Power Stadium are far from glamorous, whilst visits from West Ham and Brighton hardly get the pulse racing as some may suggest. That Wijnaldum is proving his point whilst he has the chance is crucial. It is inevitable that at some point he will be rested or rotated, but he is doing all he can to ensure that such action is only ever temporary.
With doubts having surrounded the role that he would have to play at Anfield amidst the star studded new arrivals, Wijnaldum has certainly staked his claim. There is little more that he could have done in the past few weeks and already he is beginning to look like the man that Jurgen Klopp had been looking for, a positive sign for his future on Merseyside.