In the 2014/15 season where he did exceedingly well for PSV as they won the league, Memphis Depay and Luuk de Jong got most of the plaudits, perhaps because they scored more goals, but Wijnaldum was very crucial to their successful season. He was a constant danger and dictated the tempo of the team from the center of the pitch. He also shaped and modified his game according to the manager’s game-plan for that opponent, something that made PSV such an unpredictable and threatening team that season.
Wijnaldum is very quick and most of his goals for Newcastle can be seen a result of fast counterattacks. If he is playing the deeper position, he tries to recover the ball from the opponents, or be around to latch onto the pass from the teammate who does recover the ball, and quickly be part of that counterattack. This was seen on multiple occasions at PSV. When he is playing in a more advanced role, you don’t see him slacking and he is always ready to pounce on the loose ball and try to make the most of that. He likes to get into open spaces. It has been seen on many occasions that when a fellow attacker drops to link play, he will quickly occupy the vacated area.
He also possesses the vision to spot the pass. He can split the defence with a mean through ball. He is a really good finisher, and being adept in the air is also a bonus. Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez was the only Premier League player to score more goals from midfield.
Wijnaldum has never been a specialist midfielder of some kind and cannot be put in one box. He has been seen as someone who can play pretty much anywhere in the midfield. Klopp is seen favoring either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, or some alternative of these basic set-ups. In that, Wijnaldum could either operate as a “box to box” player in the midfield, or could play behind the striker in any of the attacking position as well. Especially considering Klopp likes the pressing system, he is an ideal midfielder for the team as his energetic presence on the pitch complements Klopp’s managerial style.
Liverpool have been using the 4-3-3 formation in the pre-season and this might be even more ideal to utilize Wijnaldum. Using him as the most advanced of the midfielders, slightly ahead a central midfielder, with a holding midfielder further behind, would probably extract the most of his qualities. This would allow him to be in a position where with the additional defensive support, he would have a stronger platform from which he could attack.
Joe Allen’s imminent departure suggests the former PSV player might be coming to provide the midfield option, and to give Jordan Henderson and James Milner further competition for a first-team spot. However, a player he seems like a direct upgrade on is Adam Lallana.
Adam Lallana has found himself favored by Jurgen Klopp, as he also possesses a high energy style which makes him suitable for Klopp who prefers his team to press. However, Lallana’s output is far too little and while he is sometimes harshly criticized because he does help the team in other ways, at the end of the day, a 9% conversion rate and 52% shot accuracy is embarrassing for an attacker. Lallana can score some top quality goals, and simultaneously miss simple chances inside the box, which is perhaps why he finished last season with just 4 goals. The graphic above compares the two players and Wijnaldum comes out as the winner in almost every department. He is also three years younger than 28-year-old Adam Lallana. Therefore the arrival of the Dutchman might prove to be the end of Lallana, who was brought for the same price from Southampton two years ago. The transfer window still has plenty of time and it is difficult to guess who will still move on given Klopp has spoken publicly that the squad needs trimming.
Even if Lallana is not sold, it is absolutely clear that the England contingent comprising Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Adam Lallana cannot take anything for granted this season and will have to prove their worth to stay in Klopp’s long-term plans. Wijnaldum’s ability and versatility will mean he will be willing to battle any player in the midfield or the attack for a consistent starting spot.
As mentioned before, the Dutchman’s ability to operate virtually anywhere in the midfield means that Liverpool would be seamlessly able to switch from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-2-1, or play the 4-3-3 or a diamond or even a 4-4-1-1 formation with ease. Players with such multi-functionality are dream prospects for any manager and makes perfect sense that Klopp asked Liverpool to quickly snap him up after his advances for Gladbach’s Mahmoud Dahoud and Udinese’s Piotr Zielinski failed.
The 25-year-old’s flexibility opens up a host of options for Liverpool and he seems more than well-equipped to make an enduring impact for Klopp’s side.