‘The Curious Case of Gini Wijnaldum’ and the course correction Liverpool need this summer
The location of the spacecraft is determined and its course vector (the speed and direction of its flight) is
calculated. This is compared with the path it should be on. A new vector is computed that will put it back
on course. The ship’s attitude thrusters aim the ship and the main thruster pushes it along the path.
– Northwestern University
Seemingly as soon as we had emerged from the first wave of the pandemic, Liverpool secured number
19 – the 19th League title and the first in the Premier League era. But football teams are constantly
looking ahead, as are its players which saw Liverpool swoop for Bayern’s Thiago, and he wasn’t being
added for depth.
Jurgen Klopp is highly satisfied with Fabinho and Henderson in his midfield but whereas Wijnaldum gives
him critical ball control vital to high line defending he lacks killer passing. It’s doubtless that he
understood this as others were tried in the advanced midfield role. Klopp wants a playmaker, but one
who can maintain possession. Coutinho never could get it down and was put up front instead. Oxlade-
Chamberlain is very “route one” but lacks sufficient defensive contribution. Jones is still too sloppy in
possession in his own half of the field and needs to develop more spacial awareness. Keita, when
healthy, comes closer to fitting the bill but seems to fall about one step short in the talent department.
Klopp would probably prefer Milner (as he did against Arsenal) if he still had the legs but at the end of
the day it was Gini who kept winning the final midfield spot.
The arrival of Thiago though made it clear Klopp wanted more and wanted something different. Time
and again Wijnaldum emerged as the 11th man but it seems for Klopp’s midfield he was never quite
spousal material. So it seems he will depart in the summer, choosing to finish his career in a set-up that
endorses his preferred marauding attacking midfield role at a club that sees him as a primary name on
the team sheet rather than a best remaining option.
Liverpool did fairly well this season up until the loss of all three senior central defenders. The
partnership of Kabak and Phillips seems to have stopped the rot for now with Fabinho back in the
midfield; but the injuries have exposed frailties in other players, while better clubs have been able to
seriously test the new central defensive partnership as seen yesterday, with Real Madrid.
Liverpool relies heavily on Jordan Henderson to make everything work. He is the on-field orchestra
conductor and when he is in the midfield Liverpool are W11 D4 L0 this season. Fabinho can make the
clock tick but alone he doesn’t create the necessary devastating tempo that the Captain brings to brush
Henderson will be 31 in June and Liverpool has to be thinking that someone else must emerge soon to
fill his shoes. Curtis Jones has the potential, but much will depend on his development in the next 14-16
months. Thiago has so far showed he’s dependent on other holders in order to excel himself. Thus,
Klopp may well be eying the transfer window for an alternative.
Another possibility is to re-invent Trent Alexander-Arnold. Lacking experienced central defenders
alongside and particularly missing the leadership of Virgil Van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold has gone from
some people’s pick for best right-back in the world to being dropped altogether from the England
squad! In reality, his ability as a full-back lies in-between. Although brilliant coming forward, and quite
good when he “stays home” to defend, his recovery play leaves a lot to be desired. Whereas Robertson
instinctively understands his angles and how to shut off opponents, our boy Trent looks like a second
language learner in comparison (on the same scale Moreno meanwhile looked like E.T.).
Trent may be better deployed further up the field. His passing reads are second to none. He’s the one
player after Henderson and Milner that you can see sitting 25 yards out from goal re-directing
possession continually, probing the defence for its weaknesses.
It’s almost impossible to buy leadership in the transfer window. Leaders emerge in the environments
that favor their personality. Klopp’s captain may always have been Henderson but Milner was his first
leader (he remains the only Klopp player over 32 to get a multi-year deal). Henderson grew into the role
increasingly allowing Van Dijk to assert himself quickly at the back. These are Klopp’s most dependable
people and their absences this season have been sorely felt. Milner’s star is waning (something that
even copious amounts of Ribena can’t stop) and Henderson will not be too far behind. Key for
Liverpool’s future will be creating an environment in which new leaders can emerge. Van Dijk will likely
take the reins next, but it’s unclear who will come alongside him. Playing at right-back I’d give
Alexander-Arnold little chance, but he could be more of a leader if the significant part of his energy was
in directing the attack.
Liverpool is known to be shopping for central defenders and we’ve gone some way to identifying other
needs. The other possibility is a revamp in the forward line. Mane, Salah and Firmino are 28, 28 and 29
respectively. If Liverpool could make a deal work for Haaland or Mbappe with the sale of Mane or Salah
it’s something they should take a hard look at. Jota should emerge as more of a part of the rotation,
rather than an alternative, and things would be much more comfortable from a strategic perspective if
the forwards ages were more staggered.
That said Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards consistently do two things in the transfer window. They
make every penny count and they classically identify players right as they are hitting their peak. Klopp
also knows exactly who he wants and he will buy the right player from his perspective, or not at all.
Meanwhile the silly season, AKA the transfer window, is approaching, and with Liverpool’s troubled form
in the last 3 months, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s already here. Ludicrous speculation about
who will be coming to Anfield is matched only by the ridiculous commentaries surrounding American
politics. Newsflash! Liverpool will not be signing Philippe Coutinho, Sergio Ramos or Luis Suarez.
Since the departure of Ian Ayre from the front office, Liverpool’s transfer business has been a well-
guarded secret. There was barely a blip on the radar before the arrival of Fabinho, while only insiders
knew that Matip and Oxlade-Chamberlain would be arriving before the official announcements. Fans
were speculating last summer that Liverpool were “in advanced talks” with Premier League stars Ismaila
Sarr (Watford) or Adam Traore (Wolves), when in fact they were putting the finishing touches on the
deal for Diego Jota. Other Klopp / Edwards arrivals had more lead time but then again, nobody expected
Mane, Robertson, or Salah to be catapulted to the top of the ratings chart right away.
Another amusing part of the transfer window is that some clubs move quite quickly leaving other
supporters fretting that they have missed out. While Wolves moved quickly to sign Patricio from
Sporting Lisbon it took Liverpool another 34 days to conclude the deal for Alisson. In the meantime
some of our supporters were losing their innards, thinking or believing that a newly promoted club had
beaten us to the best keeper available – they hadn’t.
So we can conclude, by being confident, that the “course corrections” that Liverpool need have been
identified and are being addressed. Meanwhile, transfer window speculation is almost always
completely unqualified, so relax and wait for the announcements. They’ll be no “shakeup” at Anfield in
the summer, just a few adjustments and a minor course correction.