If you were to only look at his goal contribution year to year, you’d be forgiven for thinking Georginio Wijnaldum had fallen of a cliff in the past year. Since breaking into the Feyenoord first team set-up a decade ago, the Dutchman has been a steady supplier of goals and assists, averaging a goal involvement every 220 or so minutes. There was no dropoff once he moved to England either, and the 27-year old scored or assisted a goal just about every 200 minutes both at Newcastle and in his first season at Liverpool.
Then, last year, the former PSV man — ever-present in Jürgen Klopp’s midfield — scored only twice in 50 appearances, adding four assists. A meagre return for a man of such a prolific past, and yet, as they 2018/19 season rolls around, and with his manager adding Naby Keïta, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri to his list of midfield options, Wijnaldum has played all 180 minutes of competitive football on offer.
The lack of goals has not disappointed Klopp, in other words, but rather looks to be a feature of the Dutchman’s new role at the club; occupying the deepest of the three midfield position, maintaining the team’s balance.
“I think it went well,” Wijnaldum told the club’s official site. “It’s more difficult than it looks because sometimes on the pitch I also want to run forward and to help the attack as well and even score a goal, but when you’re playing in that position it’s not always possible so you have to keep the balance between the attackers and the two No.8s and the defence.
“That makes it hard because I am from origin a player who wants to run forward and try to go with the attacks, but now you have to look more around yourself, look if the players are in the right position.
“For example,” he continued. “If James goes and Naby goes also, there’s no place for me to go also so I have to stay. If one of those two stays then I can go. But I enjoy playing in that position, it’s going quite well.”
Six points, six goals and two clean sheets. It is, in fact, going quite well, and Wjinaldum’s understanding of how to manage the balancing act of the number six role has played no small part in that. Whether the Dutchman remains a first choice in that position as Jordan Henderson returns to match fitness and Fabinho finds his feet at the club is doubtful, but having a quality player intelligent enough to step into any of the three midfield roles as circumstances dictate can only be a boon in a long, trying and, hopefully, in the end, successful season.