Editor’s Column: Gini Wijnaldum is the perfect midfielder, but nobody’s noticed

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Liverpool purred last night in our 4-0 thrashing of Red Star Belgrade.

Goals from Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino put the Serbians to the sword and in truth, the scoreline could have been a lot nastier for them.

As is the way when Liverpool do a job on an opponent, the performances of individuals are dissected…

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Fabinho has received universal plaudits for his blockbuster central midfield outing, and quite rightly, considering he won nine tackles and completed over 90 passes. Mo Salah hit the headlines due to his brace – which is fair enough – as he became the fastest Liverpool to player to 50 goals (he did it in 65 games) of all time. And the best centre-back duo anywhere in Europe this season, Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk, were lavished with praise following another utterly assured 90 minutes.

But the man who made it all tick, as he has done all campaign, was Gini Wijnaldum. I tweeted last night that if one of our shiny new £50m midfielders had been playing to the level the Dutchman has this term, it would be back-page news. If it was Paul Pogba, Sky Sports would have dedicated a channel to him by now. Gini goes about his business without the need for our gratitude, but he’s earned it. 

He carries the piano, but occasionally jumps on and gives us a song, too. Klopp’s interchangeable no.6/no.8 and trusted lieutenant.

Ever since arriving from Newcastle in 2016, Wijnaldum has gradually improved to the point we now have an exceptional midfielder on our books, who’s an automatic pick in Jurgen Klopp’s best XI, without really noticing.

This season, the 27-year-old has gone up a level, having already impressed in 2017/18; but he’s our best midfielder. The manner in which he knits play together is joyous to the eye. His cleverness in how he uses his body to shield possession and almost rebound off opponents into space is exactly what Moussa Dembele of Tottenham has earned such rave reviews for at Tottenham.

Gini is an expert space manipulator and it’s clear there’s nobody Klopp trusts more both positionally and tactically. During some of our best performances last season, Wijnaldum’s number of touches on the ball were the lowest in the team, but his movement, bursts and ability to drag away defenders so as to create room for offensive team-mates meant he was just as culpable for the victories.

Now though, he’s offering more on the ball, both transitionally and offensively, as his role in our fourth goal v Red Star showed. Wijnaldum surged forward, made himself a passing option, carried the ball forward and gave it to Daniel Sturridge, whose job of putting it on a plate for Sadio Mane was simple.

Wijnaldum’s been doing stuff like this all campaign. Statistically, he doesn’t necessarily stand out, although his 92% pass completion rate in the Premier League this season at least demonstrates his tidiness and metronomic quality. But it’s his ability to read the game that cannot be judged by stats. So often a team-mate is in a 50/50 and Gini manages to put himself exactly where the ball squirms out. That’s not luck – it’s an exceptional footballing brain.

I’m delighted Fabinho announced himself to Anfield yesterday, and have extremely high hopes for the sublimely talented Naby Keita (having watched some Bundesliga compilations to remind myself), but think it’s time Wijnaldum is regarded a star and not a disposal entity.

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