Talking to Sky Sports before this month, Jurgen Klopp was asked to name who of his Liverpool players can go on to develop into a manager. One of those names that did spring to mind was Georginio Wijnaldum. “Gini for sure could do it if he wants to,” said Klopp.
For now, Wijnaldum is still a player – and what a player. But evidence of the nous that can help turn matches for his side was there in the 2-0 win at Anfield over Manchester United – you just need to look beyond all the superstars in this Liverpool side. Even though he did come close, Wijnaldum did not score against United. He finished expertly only to be adjudged offside by the tightest of margins. Liverpool’s goals were instead scored by Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah. There were no assists for Wijnaldum either. No surprise there – unlike 13 of his Liverpool team-mates, he is yet to register an assist in any Premier League match this season. Even the goalkeeper Alisson supplied one here. The back five – Alisson and the defence – were the heroes.
It is now seven clean sheets in a row for Liverpool. They have not conceded in the Premier League since winning 5-2 against Everton. This was their 39th win in a row in the league, opening up a 16-point gap over Manchester City with a game in hand as well, which is why bookmakers have them at 1.015 to win the league and at 4.50 to go the entire season unbeaten. Their status as favourites can be seen in the odds for their next three Premier League games – West Ham (1/3), Southampton (3/10) and Norwich (4/11). They are even slight favourites in their Champions League round-of-16 match against Atletico Madrid, with bookies offering odds of 1/3 for the Reds to go through over two legs, while the Spanish side are at 9/4. Fans can check out the latest enhanced odds offers for the weekend to back the Reds.
But Klopp recognises that it is a team effort, praising the defending of his forwards during his post-match interview. It is all too simple for other people to miss the midfield, although Klopp himself does not underestimate the work of any player in this Liverpool team. That is exactly why it was satisfying to see that effort was recognised with the man-of-the-match award against United for Jordan Henderson. It could have easily gone to Wijnaldum.
According to Opta, he had no interceptions or clearances. Even his fellow midfielders made more tackles and reclaimed possession far often than the Dutchman. And yet, watching the game, seeing the positions that he picked up, his influence should not be underestimated. Klopp hinted at it at the press conference after the match when he spoke about the problems posed to his group by United’s system. When we saw the line-up, it was really clear what they wanted to do,” he said. “The boys used the spaces really well.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer placed the focus on shutting down some of the threats. Alexander-Arnold might have found Van Dijk from a corner but the full-back attempted lesser crosses than in any home game that he has played all year. Brandon Williams and Luke Shaw denied him the space out on that flank. Liverpool thus looked to the other flank for a weakness. “We spoke a lot in the build-up around Shaw and Williams stopping that side but it’s this left side of Liverpool that’s causing the issues,” explained Gary Neville on co-commentary.
Wijnaldum played a huge part in this, drifting out to the left side to allow Liverpool to overwhelm Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who had a difficult night. His movement off the ball often freed up space for Sadio Mane down the left-hand side, while he kept attacks going with his strength and skill in possession, with a couple of nutmegs thrown in for good measure. His record speaks for itself – Liverpool have only lost one of the last 43 games he has played in, and that was that first-leg loss to Barcelona in the Champions League last season, a loss which he then had a huge say in turning around in the second leg with two goals. Liverpool’s form is the reason why they are favourites in Europe as well this season – while some bookies have them at 5.50 to win the Champions League, they are also at 2.20 to be the furthest progressing English team in the competition, despite a tough assignment against Atletico Madrid in the round-of-16.
Back at Anfield, Wijnaldum was yet again the key cog in this Liverpool midfield, so much so that they have not missed Fabinho at all. Despite not being the captain, the Dutchman has led by example, and has shown through his intelligence and skill that he may even be a success in the dugout should he want to go down that path after his playing days are done.