Gini Wijnaldum MUST Return to the Number Six Role after the International Break
Before I go any further I must clarify one thing; this is not an attack on Jordan Henderson. As a Liverpool and England fan I cannot overlook just how far Henderson’s game has improved over the course of the last 18 months. His forward passing was crucial to England’s World Cup success in Russia. He is our captain and is a crucial component at the club both on and off the pitch. Liverpool will soon find success again and Henderson will be the man, centre stage, lifting whatever trophy it may be high above his head (think Jamie Redknapp in 2001).
The main point I want to make is that Liverpool currently have better options at number 6. This has become evident before the international break and is likely to continue after the break. Ok, I understand Henderson was making his first start of the season against Leicester at the weekend and will need time to get back up to his best, but his introduction to the starting eleven completely disrupted the game of one of The Red’s most impressive players this season: Gini Wijnaldum.
Signed from Newcastle in the summer of 2016, Wijnaldum is the epitome of total football. Upon signing for the club, many fans were questioning just where Gini would fit in to the reds squad, after all a £25 million signing from a relegated club is always going to raise eyebrows. Fortunately for us, Wijnaldum has shown himself to be a real utility man, seamlessly fitting in anywhere across the midfield line. However, towards the end of last season, the Dutchman seemingly found his footings in a position few would have ever predicted he would play for Liverpool – the holding role.
This season, the Dutchman started the opening 3 games as the deepest of a midfield three alongside James Milner and Naby Keita. Last weekend, Henderson was chosen ahead of Keita for the Leicester game and this move saw Gini move across to a more attacking role, with the club captain coming in at 6. Although Henderson performed OK, the change in position saw the Dutchman struggle. With only 38 touches, the midfielder had the 2nd fewest touches of any starting Liverpool player (Mo Salah made just 28 touches) and was dispossessed 5 times.
It is safe to say that Gini was just not effective against Leicester. Just one week before, the 1-0 home win to Brighton, Wijnaldum’s performance could not have been any more different. The former Newcastle man shone under the Anfield lights, producing a masterclass in how to play the number 6 role. I know statistics don’t prove anything, but simply taking a look at the differences between the two games helps us see how his game was stifled when moved further up the pitch. Gini completed just 24 passes (82.8% accuracy) against Leicester, more than 50 less than he made against Brighton (75 out of 76 attempted). Wijnaldum’s 98.7% passing accuracy rate against Brighton is the highest % of any Liverpool player to have started a game so far this season. Despite being deployed deeper against Brighton, the £25 million man also made 1 key pass (0 made against Leicester) and had 2 shots on target (0 against Leicester).
Perhaps it’s harsh on a player who has made 96 appearances for the club, but I believe that if Klopp does not want to start Gini in the number 6 role then he cannot start the player as a number 8 instead. Wijnaldum has shown since signing for the club that he is not the midfielder to bridge the gap between attack and defence; both Keita and Ox have shown that they are head and shoulders above all other midfielders at the club when it comes to this. Perhaps Naby Keita needed a break after starting the opening 3 games, but he was sorely missed against Leicester.
Liverpool face a tricky 7 game spell after the international break and are likely to need to rotate the squad to keep players fresh. With Fabinho edging ever closer to first team involvement and with Henderson building up his fitness levels, both men are likely to be rotated with the 27-year-old during this busy period.
It therefore looks unlikely that Wijnaldum will be given the time to cement himself as the team’s starting number 6, however one thing is clear, as of writing, Gini is the most consistent and well-rounded defensive midfielder currently playing at a competitive level at the club and deserves all the plaudits he is currently receiving and more.
Who would you like to see in the number 6 role away to Tottenham on 15th of September? Comment below.