Premier League

Why would Liverpool want to replace Gigi Wijnaldum?

The Dutch star’s impact flies under the radar, but he is yet to sign a new contract and talk of Thiago masks how good he actually is

8:00am on Saturday 25th July 2020
Nicholas Hughes

Georginio Wijnaldum – and indeed his role in Liverpool’s system – has become something of an enigma over the past couple of seasons.

The 29-year-old arrived in England after a 14-goal season as a No. 10 for PSV, scored 11 goals from left-wing at Newcastle before essentially becoming a defensive-minded midfielder at Liverpool, all in the space of about three years.

When Wijnaldum’s signing was confirmed in the summer of 2016, Jurgen Klopp spoke of the Dutchman’s versatility, saying “we cannot have a squad of 35 players, so we need players that can play different positions.”

And Wijnaldum has played just about everywhere for Liverpool. While predominantly playing as the no.8, he has played more advanced in midfield as well as deeper in the holding role, even at left-back and started up front at the Camp Nou against Barcelona.

29 yrs - M (C) - Liverpool
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Liverpool’s assistant coach Pepijn Lijnders said he played “very well” in that role and admitted that Klopp “fell for” Gini based on his energy and drive in midfield, as well as his ability to “pop-up” in the penalty area with a late run – Barcelona second leg, for instance.

Wijnaldum himself credited Liverpool and Klopp for helping him to become a more “complete” player as he was asked to become an all-rounder in the Reds team.

Is he the perfect midfielder? From the skillset 100 per cent. He has all the things you need.Jurgen Klopp, October 2019

That said, he doesn’t really do anything on the pitch at a very high level statistically, more so he does a little bit of everything at a reasonable proficiency – the hallmark of a versatile player.

His three goals are exceeded only by Jordan Henderson in Liverpool’s midfield ranks and he gets more touches in the box than his teammates bar Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The telling statistics of Wijnaldum’s impact are probably the least flashy ones. The no.5 loses the ball just 7.9 times per 90 minutes and has a 91% pass completion rate – both team highs for the entire Liverpool squad.

He only touches the ball 61 times per 90 and plays 48.2 passes, but his efficiency whenever he does get the ball is a big part of how Liverpool are able to build up attacks.

Defensively he is on par with just about all his fellow midfielders. For someone just 1.78m tall, his 0.9 aerial duels won per 90 is impressive, but figures of 0.6 interceptions and 5.9 recoveries per 90 are surpassed by each of those in his position – all except Oxlade-Chamberlains 5 recoveries.

He has failed to record an assist this season and plays a mere 0.54 key passes per 90, according to Understat, his worst total in a Premier League season and just over half of the next lowest figure in Liverpool’s midfield. His 14.7 passes into the final third are also lower than each of his midfield counterparts.

Most importantly from Liverpool’s point of view, though, is Wijnaldum’s consistent availability. The Dutchman is currently on 35 appearances for the season, the third time in his four seasons at the club he has reached that number – the one season he didn’t reach 35, he played 33 times.

In fact, he has been such an ever-present in the side that only Roberto Firmino has played more often in a Liverpool shirt under Klopp, indicative of how reliable he is and the trust he has garnered from his manager.

His importance to the team is also recognised by his teammates who voted him as ‘fourth captain’ at the beginning of last season.

Now for the argument that he doesn’t contribute enough offensively. Yes, his six goals and nine assists in his debut season at Anfield are miles better than his subsequent three campaigns.

But the difference that season was Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner had just four assists between them from the full-back positions. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have now both reached double digits in assists for the last two seasons.

Those two completely changed the way Liverpool played and created chances, and in doing so altered what Klopp wanted from his midfielders. As Wijnaldum has said himself, he has become much more of an all-rounder at Liverpool due to his added defensive responsibilities.

With his contract due to expire next summer, it is rather strange that Klopp and his staff haven’t acted to ink a new deal for Wijnaldum as they have with many of their first-team stars over the past 18 months, although the German is hopeful of tying his man down to a new deal.

But, with Thiago rumours still lurking and Curtis Jones set for an increased role next season, perhaps there is a vision of change.

Wijnaldum is a polarising figure among Liverpool fans. There are those that understand his role, and those that believe someone in his position ought to contribute more chance creation and goal threat.

There are better midfielders in the world, certainly, but are there midfielders out there that could do what Wijnaldum does and do it with the same effect?

Klopp doesn't necessarily think so. He said about Wijnaldum in October "it is just so obvious his importance". So obvious as to give him the new contract? Time will tell.

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