Joseph Kavaloski discusses three positions in which Liverpool’s latest signing could feature this coming season.
Liverpool has signed Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle United and the Dutchman has signed a 5 year contract. With all the details finalised, we can begin looking at a few ways Jürgen Klopp will fit his new signing into Liverpool’s midfield ranks.
Although many may think of Wijnaldum as purely an attacking midfielder, he has actually been employed as a box to box player for much of his career until his move to Newcastle last summer. With the likes of Sadio Mané, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino entrenched as the starters in the attacking midfield areas in Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the Dutchman may be asked to revert back to his deeper lying position he played in the Eredivisie for PSV Eindhoven.
As an attack minded player, Wijnaldum would likely play alongside Emre Can who will be required to adopt a more defensive mindset than in the past. Scoring 14 goals from the number eight role in 2014-15 for PSV, Wijnaldum can add much needed creativity to the base of Liverpool’s midfield. With Joe Allen rumored to be on his way to Stoke City, Wijnaldum’s arrival will likely force club captain Jordan Henderson to the bench in the role Allen previously filled.
The only concern for the Dutchman playing deeper is his poor defensive contributions that may leave the defence exposed when he is bombing forward and aiding the attack. Even when Wijnaldum was playing in a number eight role in the Netherlands, he only averaged 1 tackle, 0.8 interceptions, and 0.8 clearances per match—marks that are all significantly lower than any of Liverpool’s current midfield options.
Wijnaldum has been noted as a willing and energetic presser, but box to box midfielders need to have positional awareness defensively and the ability to tackle and regain possession which the Dutchman may not have. As a result, Wijnaldum may need some time on the training ground in order to rekindle his instincts in deeper positions. However, with the Reds’ depth in attack and Wijnaldum’s steep price tag, a number eight role appears to be his long term position.
Similar to his role last season at Newcastle, Wijnaldum can also play behind the striker in the number ten spot. Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez believes this is his best position, and he could play there in certain situations for Liverpool. Were this to be the case, Firmino would likely either sit or move ahead of Wijnaldum to play as a false nine.
Last season, Klopp showed a lot of faith in Firmino in this role. Even though the Reds have at least three quality strikers, Klopp could use Firmino as a makeshift striker in certain matches. This would allow Wijnaldum to play behind him in the midfield three alongside Coutinho on the left and Mane on the right. Wijnaldum is as not creative as his two new Brazilian teammates, but with 25 goals over the past two seasons in league matches and a shooting accuracy of over 70% in 2015-16, Wijnaldum can add end product to the attack that Firmino may not be able to provide from the number ten position.
The place where Wijnaldum may fit best, but will likely play the least, is on either side of a midfield diamond. In this formation, Can would play at the base with Coutinho and Wijnaldum ahead and Firmino at the tip in the number ten role. According to Whoscored.com, Wijnaldum played this position on the left side of the midfield eleven times for Newcastle this past season, recording more goals (6) and the highest rating than in any other position he played on Tyneside.
Plus, this formation would see Coutinho move back to the position he played so well in the brilliant 2013-14 season. Wijnaldum would add goals and forward thinking play from the centre of the park while Coutinho could pull the strings from deep, opening up space with his precise passing. Unfortunately, Klopp rarely employed the diamond last season and in his time at Borussia Dortmund, instead sticking to his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation. As a result, fans may not see Wijnaldum and Coutinho work together in a midfield diamond to break down defences quite as much as many may want.
Although some may argue that £25 million is too much to pay for Wijnaldum, his tactical flexibility and aptitude to play multiple positions in midfield can be very valuable for the Reds. Long term, his place in the side most likely lies in a box to box role as a part of the midfield two in the 4-2-3-1 formation. However, he can also move further up the pitch to play any position in the midfield three, or centrally in a midfield diamond.
Wijnaldum will immediately add creativity and end product from deeper in the midfield that Emre Can and Jordan Henderson likely cannot provide. He may not become a full-time starter right away as he adjusts back to his previous position deeper in the midfield, but expect the Dutchman to be a key player as the season goes on and in the coming years for the Reds.