Both Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita played poorly against Chelsea on Sunday. And those poor performances came at the worst possible time.
We wrote ahead of the game that both Keita and Wijnaldum would be desperate to face Chelsea. Why? Because Thiago is now a Liverpool player and their places are under threat.
The usual 4-3-3 will almost certainly include both Jordan Henderson and Fabinho along with Thiago. Thus having a spot as the ‘next best’ is a lucrative one.
Fabinho may well play plenty in defence, for one, opening up a spot. Then Henderson’s injury troubles could also hand game to players. But to get them, you need to be next in line for an opportunity.
Chelsea away, being the first game since Thiago arrived, was the best chance to earn that spot. And as it turned out, both Wijnaldum and £53m Keita got to start the game.
Neither took their chance, however.
Both players had forgettable games. Keita did very little for 64 minutes, while £25m Wijnaldum missed an open goal late on after a display on the game’s fringes.
Stats explain this one better, however. For starters, Keita managed 57 touches in his 64 minutes. Wijnaldum just 59. For comparison, Henderson, who went off at half time and played against 11 men, managed 52. James Milner had 52 in 25 minutes against ten. Thiago 88 in one half.
Keita’s 57 is bad. Wijnaldum’s 59 in 90 minutes is terrible – he just wasn’t involved.
Neither put in a key pass at all. Both Henderson and Thiago managed one apiece in 45 minutes each. Total passes looked bad, too. Keita attempted 50, Wijnaldum 45. Again, that’s in 64 minutes and 90 minutes respectively, with the second half against ten men.
Henderson actually attempted more than Wijnaldum in one half against 11 – 47.
As for dribbling, Keita attempted two and completed two. Wijnaldum attempted three and completed one. Chelsea dribbled past Keita four times, Wijnaldum three.
Neither player made an interception or a clearance. And their tackling was awful. Keita tried to win the ball back six times and missed four of them. Wijnaldum tried four times and was successful just once.
Both players needed a good display and they got lucky in that both started the game. Particularly Keita, who struggled against Leeds United. But coming out of it, there’s no doubt that Thiago, Henderson and Fabinho are the team’s best midfielders.
Even Milner came away looking better and he played just 25 minutes. But in that time, he completed six more passes than Wijnaldum managed in 90 minutes. The vice-captain was only one behind Keita, too.
Neither Wijnaldum nor Keita were very involved in the game, either against ten or 11 men. It’s difficult to see where they even had a positive effect.
They missed tackles, struggled to win the ball back and couldn’t stop Chelsea players getting past them. They didn’t create anything going forward and couldn’t keep things solid.
The saving grace is that Fabinho may play centre-half for a bit, leaving a spot free. But on this display, we think we’d rather see 34-year-old Milner get the nod.