Liverpool’s Saturday night victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League was rightly viewed as an excellent team performance, that earned the Reds plenty of deserved plaudits.
However, within every team effort, there are key individuals that, every now and then, deserve to be singled out for praise, largely due to the significance of their display.
Enter Georginio Wijnaldum, Liverpool’s Dutch midfield dynamo.
Wijnaldum was one of the Reds’ most outstanding players against Spurs, producing a performance that saw him achieve high digits on several Player Rating platforms, earn the appreciation of the Anfield faithful and finally establish himself as the club’s top midfield performer.
Though, his is an intriguing story that didn’t begin now but the moment he joined Liverpool from Newcastle United last summer, in a deal worth £25 million.
Advanced playmaker or deep-lying midfielder?
In truth, that was the question on many fans and pundit’s minds when Wijnaldum joined the Reds and a fair one indeed.
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Given that his first season in the Premier League saw him record an impressive tally of 11 goals and 5 assists for an eventually relegated Newcastle side, as well as largely feature in advanced positions, from which he imposed great attacking influence, it was rather easy to see him take up an advanced role in Jürgen Klopp’s system, though, the Liverpool manager had different ideas.
From the very beginning, Klopp deployed the Dutchman in a central midfield position that carried contrasting responsibilities to his former role on Tyneside. Instead of all-out attacking, Wijnaldum was now firstly required to sit deep and keep Liverpool’s midfield secure through solid defensive work and secondly provide a platform for his striking teammates to freely attack the opposing defence through key passes and supporting runs.
It was a role Klopp knew, even before buying the 26-year-old, that he was well capable of playing and now just seven months on, the German’s faith is paying off and the numbers can prove it.
There are currently six key statistics – courtesy of WhoScored.com – that highlight Wijnaldum’s progress and development into a central midfielder for Liverpool this season.
On the defensive side, the former PSV Eindhoven man’s tackles per game average has increased from just 1 with Newcastle last season to 1.3 this year. Some of those tackles have led to more fouls being committed, as his previous season average of 0.4 fouls per game has increased to 0.6 and add to that an increased ratio of clearances per game (0.4 to 0.8) and it is clear that Wijnaldum has gotten a lot more involved in the ugly side of the game – something that was indeed required from him as a central midfielder.
His attacking responsibilities have seen him record four assists this season, just one short of his previous season tally. Wijnaldum’s average passes per game have shot up from 32.9 passes per game to 45.8, with an impressive 87.7 % of his efforts successfully finding their target.
All in all, these numbers evidence how well Wijnaldum has settled into his new role and how he’s juggled both attacking and defensive duties unfazed.
Has Gini finally won the fans over?
Besides consistently going about his business regularly, a clear challenge for Wijnaldum this season has been his relationship with the Liverpool fans.
To put it straight, there has been a real love-hate connection between the Dutchman and the Anfield faithful, one that was mostly evident in the first half of the campaign.
While some were pleased with the amount of work-rate he added to the Reds’ midfield, others were left unimpressed by his lack of attacking input, but the fact was and is that the role Wijnaldum occupied in the team didn’t demand too much of that and judging by how this year has begun for the Dutchman individually, it’s a fact that has finally been acknowledged.
The former Newcastle United star was voted, by the fans, as the club’s Player of the Month for January, after winning a poll set-up by Liverpool’s official website.
The accolade was tangible proof that Reds fans have finally moved past expecting of Wijnaldum what he produced last year in black and white, in order to appreciate what he gives today in red and that he backed it all up with an excellent display against Tottenham – taking the credit for a well-executed assist for Sadio Mané’s first goal – only added to the Kopites’ approval of ‘Gini’, while establishing him as their top midfield option.
Maintaining his great form will no doubt solidify his place in the hearts of the Anfield faithful, as well as a place in Klopp’s squad and it is something that Reds legend John Aldridge backs him to do.
“For me, I think this lad needs to realise just how good he is,” Aldo wrote in his column for the Liverpool Echo.
“There is one place up for grabs in that Liverpool midfield, and it is between Wijnaldum and Emre Can.
“It’s up to Wijnaldum to deliver this kind of performance [against Spurs] on a regular basis, and if he does then there is no contest.”