What is a Gini Wijnaldum?

Is he overperforming for Holland or underperforming for Liverpool?

Welcome to the latest Marginal Pains newsletter. It’s David and Sam here. Yes, it’s the first joint piece. 

The topic of discussion today is Gini Wijnaldum and why his form dramatically differs for club and country. We’re also trying something a little different, so let us know what you think. 

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Gini Wijnaldum might be football’s greatest enigma. For Liverpool, he’s a counterweight, used by Jürgen Klopp to balance his all-conquering team. For the Netherlands, the former Feyenoord man is a goal machine and a creative hub. Rarely is there any middle ground between the two despite supporters of the Merseyside club yearning for him so show his international form at a club level. 

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It can be perceived as a negative, but it is in fact a positive. Very few players in world football can do what Wijnaldum does, at least not to his level, anyway. He essentially flip-flops between being a defensive midfielder and an attacking midfielder, without his performance levels dropping off. 

This is really emphasised when looking at a few select stats; expected goals, expected assists and touches in the opposition box. 

For Liverpool, this season in all competitions, Wijnaldum has an expected goal contribution average of 0.20 per 90 while averaging 0.99 touches in the box. He’s appeared six times for the Dutch since the 2020/21 campaign kicked off and in those games, he’s managed close to five touches in the area with an expected goal contribution average of 0.61 per 90. 

Some query whether he’s underperforming for the Premier League champions, but it’s clear that he’s playing two different roles entirely.

Dave, using the KeyFrame Sports tool, has flagged a few examples (yes, we’re dabbling in video now) to highlight just how much Wijnaldum’s game changes when he’s wearing the red of Liverpool as opposed to the orange of the Dutch national team. 

It’s apparent that Wijnaldum, as well as a number of other midfielders turning out for the Premier League champions, tweak their natural game to help give the team the best chance of winning.

Even Curtis Jones, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder, has shown his maturity and selflessness for the Reds. Against Leicester City, with the Reds in the midst of an injury crisis, he put in a mature performance in the heart of midfield alongside Wjnaldum. In fact, Jones essentially played the Wijnaldum role with the Dutchman operating as the team’s deepest midfielder.

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It is all by design.

If you’re a Liverpool fan, it’s perhaps frustrating to see Wijnaldum adopt such a risk-averse approach when in possession, but it’s one of the key reasons Klopp’s side have been successful since his arrival.

The Reds look to pin the opposition and then wear them down. You do that by shifting the ball from side to side and opening up spaces to probe. Forcing the issue results in a high number of turnovers and more energy is then exerted trying to stop the transitions.

That is why Wijnaldum plays the way he does for the table toppers. He’s a chameleon capable of carrying out any tactical instruction. He’s one of Klopp’s most valued players and from a tactical point of view, along with Roberto Firmino, arguably the most important individual.

You’ve heard of pass the pod, right? Well, let’s do pass the article. If you know someone who might like this, please do share. You can also find us on Twitter - @SamMcGuire90 and @DAHughes_