When we think about why Liverpool are so strong and top of the Premier League, we always seem to think about Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and others who are considered within the ‘world-class’ bracket. These players are all significantly talented and are considered the main epochs of Liverpool’s success. However, the bedrock of any great team is built upon those players who do not get as much limelight, however, play a crucial role in the success of a team. Liverpool has had this in the past, with players such as Dirk Kuyt, Martin Škrtel, and Glen Johnson. Georginio Wijnaldum is in the same bracket and has to be considered one of the most underrated players in the modern game. Since he arrived from Newcastle United, he has been sensational and the perfect midfielder within the Liverpool setup. Jürgen Klopp adores the Netherlands international and his selfless nature means he is perfect for the German’s midfield.
Wijnaldum has scored big goals in big games against Manchester City, Barcelona and Chelsea and has a big game presence like no other player within the squad. His presence in the middle of the park is key to Liverpool both in attacking and defensive transitions. His energy and creative spark mean that Liverpool can both keep possession of the ball and counter-attack depending on the game itself. This, therefore, makes him perfect for any type of game which Liverpool are involved in and allows them to have consistency in selection. Put in simple terms, Georginio Wijnaldum is perfect for a game against Manchester United at Old Trafford and at the same time Is perfect for a home game against Newcastle. Having this consistency is important in the title-winning sides and this is what makes Liverpool stand out from the rest.
This tactical analysis will examine the ways in which Wijnaldum has been able to provide the Liverpool team consistency in the most important area of the pitch. The analysis itself will further examine the tactics that have been used in order to enhance his skill. Finally, this scout report will show how Wijnaldum’s game often goes under the radar despite him being a vital member of the Liverpool squad.
Finding key spaces
Midfielders in the modern game need to have good spatial awareness in order to help their teams in attacking areas. It is one thing to find space in deeper areas of the pitch whereby the opposition does not have a numerical advantage but it takes a certain amount of skill and footballing intelligence to be able to find space in attacking areas where the spaces are dominated by opposition players. Wijnaldum is excellent at finding the spaces in key areas of the pitch. This is advantageous for Liverpool as a team as the front three that are so often deadly can find passes into Wijnaldum or use him as a decoy to get into better areas. This was an aspect of his game that was evident at Newcastle also, as he was the key to them scoring goals in the 2015/2016 season. Klopp’s tactics have significantly helped with this development, as there is an encouragement for Wijnaldum to find these spaces in key positions. They are often on the left-hand side of the box, whereby Wijnaldum is situated in the Liverpool line-up.
Below is an example of this from Liverpool’s 5-2 derby day victory over Everton in December. We can see Wijnaldum in an advanced space within the attacking half. The ball is cut back to him and he eventually finishes very well. This is evidence of his ability to pick up space and be clinical when he gets the ball. Wijnaldum probably doesn’t get into these spaces enough and if he got into them more often, he would most likely see his goal tally increase substantially given Liverpool’s fluid attacking nature.
As mentioned, Wijnaldum finds these spaces on the left channel in a narrower fashion. Liverpool set up in a 4-3-3 and If Wijnaldum plays he is often on the left side of the midfield three with a defensive midfielder behind him and a more advanced midfielder next to him. This balance within the Liverpool midfield is crucial as it gives him the licence to get forward knowing that there is cover behind him. Jordan Henderson’s athleticism and midfield presence coupled with Wijnaldum’s box to box ability gives Liverpool a perfect balance in the more advanced midfield role. If Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is deployed next to Wijnaldum, he will take a more cautious role and allow Chamberlain to get forward as a result. The same is with Naby Keita who enjoys getting forward. Wijnaldum, therefore, finds space more often in the games where he has the responsibility to be Liverpool’s most advanced midfielder as he knows there is protection in Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.
Below is an example of Wijnaldum finding space in a 1-0 away win at Tottenham Hotspur. We can see him on the left side of the midfield looking to provide himself as an option to receive a pass and have a chance on goal. This is crucial in bigger games as it further allows Liverpool to increase their attacking output by getting Wijnaldum forward as much as possible. He must continue to do this to give Liverpool a further attacking option.
Attacking from deep
Wijnaldum is an incredible athlete, meaning that playing the box to box role within Liverpool’s midfield is a role that he embraces and is exceptional at doing. As has been briefly mentioned, Liverpool often uses the counter-attack to devastate their opponents with their pace and clinical finishing. This aspect of Liverpool’s attacking play is something that Wijnaldum thrives upon, getting forward when Liverpool look to break and then being able to make a recovery run back to defend if they lose the ball. This is critical in Klopp’s play, especially in games where the play is open such as against Manchester City. We have already discussed Wijnaldum’s big game drive but having the ability to attack from deep is what makes him stand out in the Liverpool midfield. The tactics, of course, allow him to do this, however, it is down to his athleticism and understanding of the game itself means he can make crucial runs into the opposition box with the ability to get back into position if the ball is lost.
Below is perhaps the best example of this from Liverpool’s 4-0 away win at Leicester City. We can see Wijnaldum, in this scenario, as the most advanced Liverpool player, looking to receive the ball in behind. He starts his run from the halfway line and eventually ends up in the Leicester box. Trent Alexander-Arnold eventually scores the goal however, it is Wijnaldum’s movement and runs in behind the defensive line that allows Alexander-Arnold the space to score from. This, therefore, highlights the importance of Wijnaldum’s role in getting forward into attacking areas.
It could be said when analysing Liverpool’s team that they’re forward players are narrow when they attack the spaces. The inside spaces are the areas that the likes of Salah look to get into with the full-backs being slightly wider to provide crosses and through passes. The role of Liverpool’s central midfield in attacking situations is largely up for debate. It is key to see, however, that Klopp loves central midfielders with a certain box to box ability to feed into his fast transition-based football. This makes Wijnaldum the perfect Klopp player. We discussed earlier his ability to find spaces in key attacking areas, however, the ability to attack the spaces from deep is equally as important. Making key runs from within Liverpool’s box into the opposing box is key to Wijnaldum’s game and it is a unique factor that he possesses.
Below is a further example of this from Liverpool’s away win at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wijnaldum once again starts the run from his half and manages to get forward to support Salah who is on the ball. Although Firmino is the player who eventually scores for Liverpool, Wijnaldum’s run is so important in creating space for Firmino to run into and eventually score. This further highlights the importance of Wijnaldum’s forward runs from deeper positions.
An aspect of Wijnaldum’s game which many overlooks as important is his role in defending when Liverpool don’t have the ball and his ability to win it back and spur them on the break. With, 27 tackles, 15 interceptions and 148 recoveries it shows that he has the defensive ability required in a Klopp team and especially in this Liverpool team. Hard work is the bedrock of any successful side and defensive solidity is what has allowed Liverpool to transform into an all-round world-class team. The role of defending is, therefore, vital and Wijnaldum is excellent at defending as well as getting forward. This does not even always consist of tackling the ball from the opponent, pressing a particular space of opposition or just being in the right position at the right time often means that the opponent will make a mistake which allows Liverpool to get forward at substantial pace. This is therefore where Wijnaldum can find himself being the perfect midfielder for this Liverpool side.
Below is an example of this from Liverpool’s home win against Bournemouth. We can see Wijnaldum engaged in a tackle in the most crucial part of the pitch. He eventually wins the ball back and Liverpool can break forward leading to a Salah goal. The defensive ability of Wijnaldum in this specific situation, therefore, is crucial to Liverpool scoring goals. It, therefore, shows that his defensive ability is as important as his attacking ability within the Liverpool side.
As mentioned, having an excellent defensive ability does not simply involve making tackles and interceptions. Being in the right spaces to put pressure on the opposition to win the ball back and move forward on the counter-attack is as important as making a tackle itself. Wijnaldum, due to his spatial awareness as discussed earlier, understands that putting pressure on players within certain spaces means that they are likely to give the ball away which would mean Liverpool can move forward on the counter-attack. This is perfect for the Liverpool setup, as the front players will stay forward to receive the ball in attacking transitions. This also is especially useful in the situations whereby teams are not as strong with possession of the ball. Applying the pressure on these sorts of teams allows possession to be won back in critical areas.
Below is an example of this from Liverpool’s 3-0 away win at Burnley. We can see Wijnaldum pressuring the Burnley player, who then loses the ball which puts Liverpool 2-0 ahead. The pressing style by Klopp is vital for this to occur and as a result Wijnaldum hugely benefits from pressing in this manner. His intelligence coupled with his athleticism are the main reasons for this occurrence.