Gini Wijnaldum leaving this summer could force Jurgen Klopp into an interesting tactical reshuffle. The 29-year-old has one year left on his contract.
Wijnaldum still hasn’t signed that new contract. The Guardian reported at the start of June that a deal may be close but here we are in August and still no agreement.
It might be time to worry, then. Wijnaldum has been a key member of the Liverpool team for years now and would make most people’s starting XI. His departure would create a void in the team.
Liverpool certainly have options to replace him, though. There’s Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones to name three – and that’s without signing anyone.
The first two are certainly more experienced and first-team ready but all three can offer Liverpool something in midfield. The big issue, then, is that all three are also very different from Wijnaldum.
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There aren’t too many players like Wijnaldum around anymore. He’s a true box-to-box midfielder and that stands out in a time where most midfielders are very specialised.
We think he’s the best at that role in the world right now – which might suggest the contract hesitancy. Wijnaldum would secure a very good deal elsewhere and you can see him joining another big club if he is leaving.
But from Liverpool’s point of view, it makes him very hard to replace. There aren’t many great box-to-box players that can come in to keep things ticking over.
The current system means Liverpool play with a very versatile midfield that shifts strategy in-game. They can attack when they need to but are equally comfortable playing cautious, defensive football.
Wijnaldum is a key part of that. He’s very good at running with the ball and moving the team forward, even scoring some goals. But he’s just as good when it comes to winning the ball, covering teammates and maintaining possession.
If any of the three above did replace him, it would surely necessitate a change in ideas.
The stand-out description of Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jones is that they’re attacking midfielders. All three are at their best with the ball and all three like to move forward. Defending, even if they can press and help out, is secondary to the trio.
Thus if Wijnaldum left, Liverpool may need to shift their midfield. The balanced trio of Fabinho, Wijnaldum, and Jordan Henderson would need a rethink as the most attacking of the three would be gone.
Instead of balance, they might have to switch to 4-2-3-1. It would mean committing Henderson to a more defensive role alongside Fabinho, where his priority is keeping things disciplined, rather than attacking the opposition.
In contrast, the third midfielder becomes more advanced. It would be a 4-2-1-3 in practice, with the forward trio remaining the same and Liverpool using a traditional no.10.
That’s how Klopp had his Borussia Dortmund side playing and we’ve seen it at Liverpool, too. Klopp used the system in late 2018, primarily because Fabinho was more comfortable in it, having used the system with AS Monaco.
And if Wijnaldum is leaving, we could see it again. Fabinho is comfortable in it and the system allows Liverpool’s attacking midfielder trio to truly embrace their strengths.
If no one arrives to replace the Dutchman, don’t be surprised to see a different Liverpool next season.