For the first time this season, Georginio Wijnaldum was overlooked in Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League starting XI against Everton at the weekend.
It was an inspired call to leave out the Dutchman at Goodison Park, and the right one.
The Liverpool manager chose to go with a midfield trident of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson and all three were exceptional in what was the team’s best performance at the home of their common enemy since Klopp arrived at the club in 2015.
Wijnaldum, 29, did feature against Everton, although he was only brought on in stoppage-time eventually taking the place of Fabinho who was removed not too shortly after a bookable offence.
The Netherland’s international is expected to start during Liverpool’s Champions League clash tomorrow night against Ajax after the injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Thiago have left two vacated areas in the midfield.
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Thiago will not be risked during Liverpool’s trip to Amsterdam while the double defensive blow to Van Dijk and Joel Matip means Fabinho is expected to start in central defence.
Being able to bring a talented player such as Wijnaldum back into the mix is a luxury for Klopp. But the question is ‘what comes next?’
Wijnaldum in or out?
Wijnaldum was Klopp’s most trusted midfield lieutenant en route to Liverpool’s title procession last season. He clocked up more appearances than any member of the club’s tried-and-tested midfield triumvirate.
Ajax, Sheffield United, FC Midtjylland and West Ham lie ahead over the next four fixtures.
With Fabinho likely to be utilised at the back more often than not in the upcoming weeks and with Thiago still recovering from the weekend, Wijnaldum is likely to have some form of involvement in all of the previously aforementioned matches.
Klopp will most likely partner Wijnaldum alongside Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita on Wednesday night as Liverpool prepare for their inaugural Champions League bout of the season.
If Klopp’s plan is to have as many fresh legs as possible to take on Ajax in midweek and Sheffield United on the weekend, then he will have that by pairing Wijnaldum and Keita together.
Up for grabs
A mixed start to the season has put the spots in Klopp’s midfield up for grabs.
This was not the case last season when the manager’s trusted midfield trident of Wijnaldum, Henderson and Fabinho near enough started every game.
Perhaps a slow start was a product of the limited end-of-season-break and only a short pre-season. However, the addition of Thiago and the revived form of Keita have made Liverpool’s midfield unit much more unpredictable.
Throw in the emergence of Curtis Jones and the imminent return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain too, and Liverpool suddenly have a serious array of options.
Wijnaldum must earn his spot in the Liverpool side. While the Ajax decision may be an easier one to bring him in, this Saturday against Sheffield United will be less clear.
Klopp made a bold call to leave Wijnaldum out, and it may spark a positive reaction.
With so many options available, it will not be a surprise if he is out of the side when Chris Wilder comes to town at the weekend.
If it becomes a pattern, it will inevitably fuel speculation towards an Anfield exit with his contract due to expire next year. But Wijnaldum will not allow rumours to cloud his judgment. He will be up for the fight and is more than prepared to earn back his spot in the starting line-up.