Hours after the Reds’ third straight pre-season win over Wigan Athletic, news broke of Jurgen Klopp’s ambition to secure a double transfer swoop.
Moving to sign centre-back Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg, the man Klopp hopes to bring to Anfield along with the defender is Netherlands international, Wijnaldum.
The Reds reportedly want to sign the midfielder for between £15 million and £20 million, with Anfield officials said to be hopeful of agreeing a fee in the coming days for the ex-PSV Eindhoven man.
So what could Wijnaldum offer and where would he fit in at Liverpool?
Born in Rotterdam, Wijnaldum joined local side Sparta Rotterdam’s academy aged six and his rapid progression, which saw him feature for Holland’s youth teams, prompted interest from PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord, with the then-14-year-old joining the latter in 2004.
Wijnaldum’s development continued at pace and at the end of 2006/07, he made his first-team debut in a 4-0 Eredivisie win over Groningen aged just 16 and 148 days—becoming the youngest player to feature for Feyenoord.
Wijnaldum enjoyed his full breakthrough in 2007/08, featuring 12 times and scoring his first goal in a 6-0 win over Heracles, but it was the following season that he really established himself, posting five goals and eight assists in 44 games.
Three more impressive years at De Kuip, where he scored an eye-catching 14 goals in his final season, prompted PSV to rekindle their interest and sign the 20-year-old for €5million in 2011—two months after his international debut for the Netherlands.
Wijnaldum hit the ground running with another 14-goal season at the Philips Stadion, which he followed up with his career-best total of 20 goals—and eight assists—and such form saw manager Philip Cocu make him captain.
After an injury-ravaged first season as skipper, he returned to net 18 times in his last term at PSV before moving to Newcastle for £14.5 million—where he caught Klopp’s eye, scoring 11 times in his first Premier League season.
One of those came against Liverpool, Wijnaldum’s next potential destination.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Style of Play
Throughout his career, Wijnaldum has played a number of roles—featuring as an attacking midfielder, even from wide areas, or as a box-to-box or advanced central midfielder.
However, Wijnaldum, as stated upon arrival at Newcastle, clearly feels he’s at his best when deployed in his “natural position” as a No. 10:
“If you want to use my qualities the best, then I must play in the midfield in a position where I can make goals because that is a major quality of mine. I can make goals, and I can create chances.”
Such versatility is an appealing and underrated aspect of Wijnaldum’s attack-focussed game.
The 25-year-old’s strengths come in his trademark third-man runs, nous when arriving into in the box, and his ability to dribble at pace to turn defence into attack and break through opposing defences.
Crucial within this is his athleticism and deceptive strength on the ball despite his 5’9″ frame, which allows him to manoeuvre and accelerate away from opponents—most notably when cutting inside as he did so often last season when deployed on Newcastle’s left wing.
This is vital in the final third, where he often does his best work, and has been key to the goal threat he’s carried throughout his career—with his finishing skills seeing him net an impressive 92 career goals in 326 games.
One concern with Wijnaldum’s game, however, is his defensive contribution, with the Dutchman a player who unquestionably operates better when freed from defensive responsibility and able to maraud around and burst forward.
He averaged 1.1 tackles and 0.8 interceptions per 90 league minutes last season, while Adam Lallana, for example, averaged 2.5 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per 90, and this could have a real bearing on where he features at Anfield, should the move happen.
A versatile player with a preference for attacking license, where would Wijnaldum feature at Liverpool?
Wijnaldum at Liverpool
With attacking midfielders and central options also in abundance, where Wijnaldum fits in under Klopp poses an interesting question—especially with his preference for a central attacking role.
One thing that he does provide is quality and flexibility, as assessed by Reds legend Rafael Benitez, who said in March that “because he is so good, he can play everywhere and do well.”
Klopp can utilise the potential new recruit in a variety of positions and systems, and a lot hinges on how he decides to set up—which he has hinted in pre-season so far could be 4-3-3 rather than 4-2-3-1, perhaps due to his midfielders being more suited to a three-man midfield.
The current formation would be more suited to Wijnaldum, allowing to break freely from the right side of midfield with the security of a defensive shield behind him in Emre Can.
This would give Liverpool genuine attacking intent and an element of creativity from midfield, which has been missing when Can and one of Jordan Henderson or James Milner have formed the double pivot.
If Klopp sticks with 4-2-3-1, Wijnaldum could operate deeper in a two-man centre, but his desire to advance could offer a potential issue for midfield solidity.
Wijnaldum could therefore find himself battling for a place in his natural role, and with the implications that could bring on Liverpool’s attack, Klopp would have a further selection dilemma, though a nice one with the vast quality at his disposal.
Though unclear what role Joe Allen’s likely replacement would play in Liverpool’s starting lineup, he would certainly represent an extremely good signing by Klopp.
A proven performer in the Premier League, his efficiency, attacking prowess from midfield and eye for goal would boost the Reds, and it is clear to see why Klopp is targeting him—it’s now up to Liverpool to get their man.