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Wijnaldum taking his chance

It can’t have been an easy summer for Gini Wijnaldum.

Posted by Andy Thompson
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Watching most of his team mates at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Dutchman has also seen a number of midfield competitors arrive. Naby Keita and Fabinho came in to bolster the options in central midfield, which were left badly exposed at the tail end of last season.

They were much needed signings but it might well have left Wijnaldum questioning his place at the club as a raft of central midfielders means increased competition for places. Ultimately, players will have to miss out.

Wijnaldum with over 0.5 assists against Leicester 5/1*

Despite it being widely expected to be the case, it hasn’t been the Dutch international who has lost his place. He has instead made a very strong start to the season and currently is keeping Jordan Henderson out of the team. The skipper might well be making a slow return following his World Cup exertions with England but Wijnaldum’s form has lessened the need for him to be rushed back.

The fact of the matter is that currently, our new look midfield is not necessarily new look. Only Naby Keita has come in and played games. James Milner has been the other of the three, and three games and three clean sheets in, it’s no surprise that we are remaining unchanged. What we have is working currently, though you could argue that our performances become less convincing by the week.

Mo Salah to score direct from free-kick vs Leicester 8/1*

What Wijnaldum brings to our team is a cool, calm presence who doesn’t buckle under pressure. He has been an important part of us seeing out the last two games, which were both tough, close affairs. His composure and willingness to keep hold of the ball before picking the right pass is something that is extremely important when you’re under pressure. It’s what Jordan Henderson has been sent on to do in the game at Selhurst Park and more recently at Anfield on Saturday – receive the ball, play a simple pass and retain possession.

Indeed, Wijnaldum misplaced just one pass in his 90 minutes in the game against Brighton, completing 75 of his 76 passes.

In fact, that is the kind of donkey work that often gets overlooked in a team like ours where most eyes are on our explosive front three. Keeping the ball is a very important part of the way we play – just look at the way we have spent north of £60m on a goalkeeper who can ping the ball around like Xabi Alonso. Wijnaldum’s work is underappreciated.

His skill where he kept the ball up on his thigh and then exploded out of the midfield area against Brighton was outrageous. Again, it’s a case of him being comfortable on the ball and having the ability and mentality to have the ball in tight spaces. Unfortunately he was fouled, because a Liverpool break was on the cards.

As it stands, I don’t see him coming out of the team any time soon. The game can often pass Wijnaldum by in the humdrum of an away fixture but his calmness and composure is often overlooked. It’s a long season and the likes of Fabinho (when he is deemed up to speed) and Adam Lallana will come in at some point. This is before mentioning Henderson, who is club captain and will play more often than not when he has put his fractured pre-season behind him. The benefits to having a midfield with the depth that we have are numerous.

But at the moment, Wijnaldum is not likely to go anywhere and nor does he need to. Having had the benefit of a full pre-season he is in prime position to have an extended run in the team and he’s in a good run of form. So why fix what isn’t broken?

Liverpool to win and both teams to score (against Leicester) 9/5*

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