How have Liverpool's two major summer signings adjusted to Klopp's system?
Liverpool have had an excellent start to the season, which has led to some talking about them as outside title contenders. The squad have adapted to the methods of their innovative manager, Jurgen Klopp, and their pressing has been great to watch. They have managed to dominate matches against Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, showing that they now have a side capable of competing with the very best in the league. There were doubts about the transfer business that the club did over the summer, with no big-name players arriving at Anfield. However, the new arrivals have all managed to fit in immediately and it is obvious that the club are now targeting players that can thrive in Klopp’s system.
The major signings this summer were Sadio Mane and Gini Wijnaldum, both arriving from other English clubs, which allowed them to hit the ground running. The former has arguably been the standout, but both have showed that they are comfortable in Klopp’s system. The German’s style requires athletes that are capable of running themselves into the ground for the team. However, they also need to react quickly when the ball is won back and not waste possession, regardless of how tired there are. It takes a special kind of player to excel in Klopp’s system, but those that can take their game onto the next level under the German. That is looking to be the case for both Mane and Wijnaldum.
Looking at Mane’s performances at the start of the season, it is clear that he has stepped up his game since last season with Southampton. There was initially concern that the former Southampton forward cost too much money and he wouldn’t improve the starting eleven at all, but they have been proven wrong quickly. The Senegalese international played extremely well at Red Bull Salzburg under Roger Schmidt, a manager who has similar methods to Klopp. For that reason those that have followed Mane’s career believed that Liverpool was a good move for him.
During the six league matches that he has started, Mane has contributed three goals and one assist, proving that he can be an asset for Klopp’s Liverpool. His movement and clinical finishing mark him as an integral part of the starting eleven. However, it has been his ability to press and win the ball back in good areas that mark him as a Klopp player. He has averaged two tackles per game and has showed a willingness to run all match if required. At the age of 24, the Senegalese international has a lot of room for growth and could develop into one of the best attackers in the league under the management team at Liverpool.
Although Gini Wijnaldum has been a mainstay of the Liverpool midfield this season, he has been critical of his own form and believes there is more to come. Unlike Mane, the Dutchman has had to adjust to a change in position as well as adapting to the high work rate that is demanded by Klopp. At Newcastle, he was used as a forward, either in the number ten position or on the wing. He had the freedom to join attacks and wasn’t required to do a lot of defensive work. Since his move, he has been utilised as a box-to-box midfielder. Wijnaldum has played in that role for PSV and the national side, but the physicality of the Premier League has made it more difficult for him. He will need to improve his performances if he wants to remain a regular in the starting eleven.
He has contributed two assists at the start of the season and has looked bright in the attacking half at times. However, he is struggling to influence matches as he did at Newcastle. His energy and work rate can’t be questioned, but his defensive quality isn’t at the level of either Jordan Henderson or Adam Lallana. His two partners in the middle of the park have been much better at winning the ball and this will concern his manager. Wijnaldum has averaged 1.4 tackles and 0.6 interceptions per game, which isn’t good enough for a centre midfielder in Klopp’s side.
Both players have the athleticism and quality on the ball to fit into the side that Klopp is trying to build at Liverpool. Mane has had a much greater impact at the beginning of this season, but he hasn’t had to deal with a positional change like Wijnaldum has. It is encouraging for Liverpool fans that the Dutchman recognises his own bad form and he is the type of character who will want to correct that as soon as possible. The early signs are that both will be good signings for the club, but one has settled better than the other.
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