Perhaps no one epitomises Liverpool’s inconsistencies better than Georginio Wijnaldum.
The 26-year-old, who Jürgen Klopp bought from Newcastle United last summer, is a barnstorming player when on song. Energetic, relentless and adaptable, Wijnaldum at times represents the complete midfielder.
The Dutchman can hold the ball in tight areas, provide forward runs, screen a defence and produce fantastic passes, such as in Liverpool’s third goal against Hoffenheim at Anfield.
Yet that match was back in August, and you can always rely on Wijnaldum to go missing for a few games after producing a fine individual performance, particularly if those games are away from home.
Debut season made by big matches
Last season, Wijnaldum scored six times and registered nine assists, often influencing matches against the bigger clubs. For instance, he scored the winning goal against Manchester City in a 1-0 win at Anfield last December, driving a header past Claudio Bravo. He symbolises Klopp’s pressing style that is so uncomfortable for the elite clubs when they play at Anfield.
However, when Liverpool are toiling away from home against a side they are expected to defeat, Wijnaldum is often anonymous. Whenever he experiences a rare moment on the ball, he moves play on and shirks responsibility, often passing backwards as well, instead of to Liverpool’s playmakers, such as Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool, who as a club are currently struggling, with only one win in six, visit Newcastle this weekend, managed by former Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez. As Liverpool prepare for their visit to St James’ Park, Wijnaldum may have his own private reflection for how his Liverpool career has developed so far since leaving his former club.
Certainly, despite an encouraging debut season, Liverpool fans are questioning Wijnaldum’s position and future in Liverpool’s team going forward. Is he good enough for a side with ambitions to win trophies and challenge once again for the game’s biggest prizes?
Wijnaldum has plenty of midfield competition, with captain Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Coutinho, Adam Lallana, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marko Grujić all vying for Liverpool’s three midfield places. For all the uncertainty surrounding the futures of Can and Coutinho, plus Lallana’s injury issues, once all are fit and on form Wijnaldum faces an uphill task to remain a regular under Klopp.
Liverpool’s encounter with Spartak Moscow on Tuesday night emphasised Wijnaldum’s predicament, as he was dropped from the starting line-up for the Champions League fixture. A midfield three of Coutinho, Can and Henderson was favoured instead, and all three will likely remain ahead of Wijnaldum, even if Liverpool could only manage a 1-1 draw in Russia.
Last season, Wijnaldum was able to play consistently in the first-team because of Can and Grujic’s struggles with injury, Coutinho’s position in the front three, Milner’s position at left-back and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s position at a different club in Arsenal.
Wijnaldum formed a promising midfield three with Henderson and Lallana last season, which possessed plenty of energy but suffered inconsistencies in creativity, quality and defensive discipline – with many of these problems still prevalent this season.
Lacking quality, some suggest
Ultimately, Wijnaldum lacks the consistent quality to succeed in Liverpool’s first-choice midfield. This area could yet experience major surgery over the next year because of Coutinho and Can’s futures, but Wijnaldum is better equipped to be a squad player for the Reds. His energy and box-to-box drive would be enormously useful for the big games at home, which he has already proven in just over a year in a Liverpool shirt.
He may not like the sound of this, but Wijnaldum could easily become Liverpool’s equivalent of Park Ji-sung, the former Manchester United player Sir Alex Ferguson used for specific games because of his endurance and work-ethic.
However, to win titles, Liverpool need a top-class defensive, box-to-box and creative midfielder. Arguably they only have one of those at the moment in Coutinho, although Naby Keïta is set to arrive next summer. Nevertheless, perhaps the futures of all three of Henderson, Can and Coutinho could come into doubt in the near future, whether the reason is because they want to leave, they are not good enough or do not want to stay as second choices.
Wijnaldum’s future should be at Liverpool, but equally he is not the answer to the club’s problems going forward. What Wijnaldum does offer however should allow him to stay at Anfield and compete for a place, as the attributes that he can deliver could make all the difference in certain games – and those certain games could make all the difference when hunting for trophies.