How important was Georginio Wijnaldum's understated display for Liverpool against Chelsea?
There were many shining lights in the red of Liverpool on Friday night against Chelsea, as an all round excellent team display led them to an impressive 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge, putting the gloss on a promising start to the season after they have negotiated many a difficult fixture.
Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson of course grabbed plaudits for being the men to grab the goals on the night, Sadio Mane and Nathaniel Clyne were terrific in every aspect on the right flank, Philippe Coutinho was performing to a level approaching his best, and Adam Lallana combined his new-found exceptional industry with supreme technique on the ball.
However, one man who has gone unnoticed by some; not only in the game against Chelsea but also during the start of the 2016/17 campaign as a whole, is Georginio Wijnaldum.
Since his arrival at Anfield, the Dutchman has been deployed in a classic central midfield role, tasked with getting about the pitch and contributing in almost every facet of play. Tasked with such a wide-ranging set of jobs, Wijnaldum has performed admirably, especially given the fact that he was given such license at Newcastle United to roam about the pitch, influencing play as he saw fit. In this regard then, Klopp has done well to spot the attributes which he has so far successfully extracted from Gini.
The Dutch international has picked up two assists to date, demonstrating that even though he is nominally starting from a deeper role than he necessarily prefers or is used to, he is certainly capable of providing the cutting edge necessary in the final third. Although he failed to add to this tally against Chelsea, danger was rarely far away when he got on the ball near The Blues’ penalty area.
Admittedly, Wijnaldum did also arrive at Anfield with the potential of goals, having notched on 11 occasions for Newcastle last term. He has thus far failed to open his Liverpool account and has recently reiterated his desire to put this particular statistic to bed. He has told LiverpoolFC.com:
“You get used to scoring goals.
“During the years I have scored a lot of goals as a midfielder and when you get that feeling, you always want to score.
“You’re going to have a hunger to score goals and you’re going to be greedy to score goals. That’s what I am right now.
“But the most important thing is how can I help the team? If that’s with assists then so be it. Of course I want to score, because I did it for a lot of years in a lot of teams and it’s something I can do.”
With Chelsea as the opposition on Friday, it was understandable to see him not necessarily looking to put this to bed, with the team’s objectives taking first priority, so it was reassuring that Wijnaldum could maintain control over this personal desire.
Where he was absolutely crucial to The Reds’ triumph was in his timely application of energetic bursts in midfield, aiding the team both offensively and defensively. It seemed as though the former Newcastle star was always the willing runner making an effort to support a lightning break by Mane for example, while he would also be the first man looking to bust a gut to chase Chelsea players towards his own goal. Not only did he put in the effort, he didn’t fall into the same trap that so many do these days by fouling his man, instead either shepherding them towards fellow red-shirted defenders or even putting in a well timed tackle himself.
It was in the transitional phases of play that Georginio Wijnaldum has impressed the most. His engine allows him to get into position, while his technical ability on the ball – superior to that of the likes of Jordan Henderson and arguably even Emre Can – allows him to spark the next passage of play into life, either by feeding Coutinho and Lallana, continuing a surging run himself, or looking to play a pass over the top for the likes of Sadio Mane.
In the system that Jurgen Klopp loves to use – one where the opposition are hit when they are at their most vulnerable – Wijnaldum will be integral to its success, just as he was against Antonio Conte’s troops.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Stuart MacFarlane