Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Is Klopp getting it wrong with the Wijnaldum experiment?

When Liverpool signed Georginio Wijnaldum this summer from Newcastle United, I was quite excited. Last season, and for many previous seasons in truth, Liverpool really lacked a cutting edge in midfield. With Wijnaldum, I felt that manager Jurgen Klopp was addressing this problem as the Dutch international has the ability to provide that attacking impetus and, more importantly, end product.
Credit - Sky Sports

At a first glance, I thought that Wijnaldum was being bought as an upgrade over the profligate Adam Lallana. Indeed, the stats seemed to back my supposition, with the Dutch international having scored 25 goals in his past two seasons. In addition to this, the former Newcastle and PSV man registered 8 assists and created 89 chances during the same timeframe. Wijnaldum even supported this himself in an interview where he said that “I can make goals and create chances”.

However, fast forward to the start of the current season and Wijnaldum has been deployed in an unusual holding position within the Reds midfield, alongside captain Jordan Henderson. As a result, his attacking prowess has been rendered ineffective, with the former PSV captain struggling to make an impact on proceedings. The fact is that Wijnaldum is a player who thrives on bombing forward in an attacking midfield role and is not adept to the defensive side of things. While he can “do a job” over there to help the team out, the bottom line is that he is the proverbial square peg in round hole.

Credit - Sky Sports

This was very visible during the 2-0 loss against Burnley, where the Clarets were able to launch attacks and get through the midfield as if it wasn't even there with just 2-3 rudimentary passes. While the defence is always harshly criticized, a major reason for why Liverpool leak so many goals is that the midfield does not provide enough protection. If a defence is exposed on such a regular basis, it is often bound to concede chances and inevitably goals. Wijnaldum’s lack of defensive nous is one of the reasons for this during recent games.

If we look at other top teams, they have adept defensive midfielders who do a great job of breaking up play before attacks can develop. Chelsea have Ngolo Kante and Nemanja Matic, Arsenal have Granit Xhaka whereas Pep Guardiola has Fernandinho at his disposal. Who do Liverpool have to do this for them? As a result, bigger picture over here is how much Liverpool miss the presence of a dedicated defensive midfielder. It has been said so much that it borders on the cliche but Liverpool, even after all these years, have never found the replacement for Javier Mascherano.

Credit - Empire of the Kop 

Coincidentally, it was when Mascherano was at the helm and Liverpool had the “best midfield in the world” that the Reds actually had a dependable backline. Rather than focusing on something that does not work in Wijnaldum, Klopp has to deploy someone that has that defensive nous and knack of breaking up play. While Emre Can is promising, he is still not a dedicated defensive midfielder and is more adept at the box to box role. The only specialist holding midfielders Liverpool have at the helm are the declining Lucas and the inexperienced Kevin Stewart. But even then, they provide more of a solution then Wijnaldum does.

Klopp has spoken a lot on player versatility and how they do not have specific “positions”, he needs to understand that Wijnaldum is not the answer, similar to how Daniel Sturridge on the wings is not the answer. If Klopp really wants to get the best out of Wijnaldum, play him where he is best at in attacking midfield or don't play him at all. He can be a major goalscoring asset if deployed right. But, trying to shoehorn him into the team in any way possible just because he is a big money signing is never going to work. If Klopp does that, he may be jeopardising the overall well being of the team.

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