Ahead of Liverpool’s second leg trip to the Etihad, Gini Wijnaldum was given his rehearsal in the ‘6’ role. Jack Hallows takes a closer look at how he did.
There were a number of interesting things about the line-up when Liverpool took the field against Everton at Saturday lunch time but one thing that immediately stood out to me was how deep Gini Wijnaldum was stationed.
It was clear from the offset that while Henderson is Klopp’s preferred option in the ‘6’ role when fit, the Liverpool captain was given far more license to roam and get forward alongside countryman James Milner while Wijnaldum was tasked with the screening job.
This is likely as a result of Henderson being suspended for Tuesday’s coming game and the other obvious option in the squad – Emre Can – set to also miss the fixture with injury.
So how did he get on?
From an initial glance, Wijnaldum actually put in a very good shift in the deeper role.
The Dutchman has always possessed impressive physical traits including his ability to shield the ball from attackers along with his recovery speed when he gets going and both were on display against the Toffees.
Wijnaldum’s use of the ball was perhaps the most impressive part of his display. His ability to drive forward from deep with far more assurance than Henderson – he completed 3 dribbles, the joint most of any player on the field – meant that the Reds were able to move up the field at a quicker rate than when the captain sits in front of the defence.
According to WhoScored, the Dutchman had the second highest pass accuracy (94%), most passes total (81) and most completed passes (76) of any player on the field with over 50% of those played forwards. This is over double his Premier League average of 36 passes per 90 minutes. WS also awarded him the highest rating of any midfielder to feature in the game (7.2/10).
Realistically, on the ball, this equates to an impressive performance from Wijnaldum – especially given it was away from home – and showcased what he can do when he manages to get involved in the play.
Slightly worrying was the fact that Wijnaldum did not complete a single tackle during his 90 minutes on the field despite playing in a deeper role. However, a closer look revealed that neither did Lovren or van Dijk, while Milner and Henderson completed 5 between them.
The ‘tackle pitch map’ also shows evidence that the Reds weren’t forced to make too many challenges in deeper positions, preferring to try and win the ball back in the midfield or wide areas instead.
Wijnaldum did however manage to make two interceptions – the joint second most of any player on the field and only behind Ings for the Reds – while also leaving the field as the only Liverpool midfield player to win an aerial duel.
Moving onto Tuesday
While Wijnaldum the deep-lying midfielder was a success at Goodison, it must be stressed that Manchester City are going to provide a far tougher challenge for the Dutchman.
While his recent outing bodes well for the Reds – and he’ll likely have the industrious and energetic pairing of Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain alongside him to help out – Wijnaldum certainly has areas of his game he’ll have to iron out.
One lapse of concentration in the first half saw the former Newcastle man dawdle on the ball in the centre of the field and while he managed to dribble his way to safety, Manchester City’s midfielders will not be so forgiving in their pressing.
A quick glance at Wijnaldum’s heat-map against Everton in comparison to that of Henderson against City last week also reveals that while the Dutchman was fielded in the deepest role of Liverpool’s midfield trio, he took up a far more advanced position than Henderson recently did against the Premier League champions elect.
The first image below shows that Henderson spent much of his time camped outside the Reds’ own box – an image largely skewed by our shut up shop approach to the second half in fairness – while the second shows that against Everton Wijnaldum was able to predominantly patrol the centre circle.
Lose the ball in the areas he’ll likely be patrolling on Tuesday and the Reds will have far less time to make a recovery.
I wouldn’t say I’m worried about Wijnaldum playing in the screening role for 90 minutes at the Etihad on Tuesday, especially if Klopp sets the team up in a manner as spot on as he did for the first leg but it’ll certainly be a test unlike any the Dutchman has probably ever faced before in his footballing career. Let’s hope he’s able to rise to the occasion.