Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Gini Wijnaldum's underrated role in Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool success
Goals from Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah helped Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool to a 2-0 win over Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday
Last Updated: 20/01/20 12:16pm
Speaking to Sky Sports earlier this month, Jurgen Klopp was asked which of his Liverpool players could go on to become a manager. He was unsure if any of them would want to do it but one of the names that did spring to mind was his midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
"Gini for sure could do it if he wants to," said Klopp.
Against Manchester United on Sunday, it was easy to see why.
For now, Wijnaldum is still a player - and what a player. But evidence of the awareness that helps turn games his side's way was there in the 2-0 win at Anfield - you just have to look past all the other stars in this Liverpool side.
Wijnaldum did not score against United, although he did come close. He finished expertly beyond David de Gea in the first half only to be adjudged offside by the tightest of margins. Liverpool's goals were instead scored by Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah.
There was no assist for Wijnaldum either. No surprise there, perhaps. Unlike 13 of his Liverpool team-mates, he is yet to register an assist in any Premier League game this season. They were provided here by Trent Alexander-Arnold and, yes, even goalkeeper Alisson.
The back five - Alisson and defence - were the heroes again.
It is seven clean sheets in a row for Liverpool. They have not conceded in the Premier League since winning 5-2 against Everton at the start of December. But Klopp recognises it is a team effort, praising the defending of his forwards during his post-match interview.
Klopp himself clearly does not underestimate the role of any player in this Liverpool team, but it is all too easy for others to overlook the midfield. That is why it was satisfying to see Jordan Henderson's efforts recognised with the man-of-the-match award against United.
It could just have easily gone to Wijnaldum.
No goal and no assist. According to Opta, no clearances or interceptions either. Even his midfield partners made far more tackles and won the ball back more often than the Dutchman.
And yet, watching the game, seeing the positions that he picked up and the way that Wijnaldum maintained the pressure on United, his influence should not be underestimated.
Klopp hinted at it in the press conference after the game when he spoke about the problems posed to his team 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 put the focus on shutting down some of the more obvious threats. Alexander-Arnold might have found Van Dijk from the corner but the flying full-back actually attempted fewer crosses from open play than in any full game that he has played at Anfield all season. Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams denied him the usual space out on that flank.
Instead, Liverpool looked to the other wing in search of a weakness.
"We talked a lot in the build-up about Shaw and Williams stopping that right side but it's this left side of Liverpool that's causing the problems," said Gary Neville on co-commentary for Sky Sports.
In the first half, more than twice as many attacks were focused down the Liverpool left as they doubled up - sometimes tripled up - on Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The United full-back endured a torrid afternoon but much of that was because of the positioning of Wijnaldum.
The opportunities for Liverpool were often in those pockets of space inside and it was the midfielder who found it - not just for his disallowed goal but time and again throughout.
It was by that touchline that he showed great strength in shoving Andreas Pereira to the ground early on before swaying away from Shaw. That little glimpse of his gifts brought loud cheers followed by chants of his name from the home supporters - a reminder that while Wijnaldum might well be underrated, he is certainly no unsung hero at Anfield.
Soon after, he was darting inside when Roberto Firmino came short. It was typical of his awareness. There was even a subtle point of the finger instructing Andrew Robertson not to pass to him even as he ran in behind but to look instead to Sadio Mane who was free inside of him. That would have brought the second goal had Mane's touch been a little better.
There were some highlights of his own. The nutmeg that did for Harry Maguire in the centre circle will be being replayed by Liverpool supporters for some time, one would imagine. Some might have preferred the one on Fred inside his own half instead. Nonchalance personified.
But for the most part his role was simply to retain the ball with his great body strength and carrying it up the pitch for his team. Just keep moving.
There is still plenty of chatter about what this Liverpool midfield cannot do. Maybe it is time that focus shifted to what these world champions can do.
Even Fabinho's absence has not hindered them.
Indeed, Wijnaldum's own personal record over the past 12 months shows that he has been on the losing side only once in the 43 games that he has started for Liverpool in that time. That was the 3-0 away defeat to Barcelona - a result that he seemed to regard as a personal insult given that he proceeded to score twice in turning the second leg around.
The man who captained PSV to the Eredivisie title at the age of 24 has shown that he is a leader even if he doesn't have the armband at Liverpool.
Gini Wijnaldum is an important part of Klopp's team. And, who knows, he might even go on to manage them one day.