Player Focus: Georginio Wijnaldum hints at away-day anonymity in Burnley loss

Georginio Wijnaldum arrived at Liverpool amid suggestions from Newcastle fans of sustained poor form away from home, and this was evidenced in Saturday’s defeat at Burnley.


Goals from Sam Vokes and Andre Gray sealed a famous victory for the Clarets at Turf Moor, with Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds failing to respond to Burnley‘s low block.

It was a hugely disappointing result following the previous weekend’s 4-3 win away to Arsenal, with a host of Klopp’s players struggling to produce a consistent performance after shining at the Emirates Stadium.

One such player was Wijnaldum, who had impressed in the midfield against the Gunners but was noticeably short in Lancashire.

Wijnaldum’s performance was remarkable in its anonymity, and could be a warning sign for the future.

 

Words of Warning

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 6, 2016: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum in action against Barcelona during the International Champions Cup match at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by Xiaoxuan Lin/Propaganda)

Wijnaldum made the £25 million move from Newcastle this summer, in something of a surprise development for the Reds.

Seemingly second choice to Polish midfielder Piotr Zielinski, Klopp turned to Wijnaldum after it transpired that Udinese would prefer to do business with fellow Serie A outfit Napoli.

The former PSV Eindhoven captain added another body to Klopp’s ranks in the middle of the park, and after a maiden Premier League campaign in which he scored 11 goals in 38 games, he looked to be an excellent signing.

But as Newcastle writer Jamie Smith told This is Anfield ahead of Wijnaldum’s move, supporters should hold concerns over his commitment:

“Wijnaldum started strongly with a debut goal against Southampton and impressed sporadically throughout the early months of the season, with his match-winning display against Liverpool a standout, alongside an impressive four-goal haul vs. Norwich City.

“However, it soon became a standing joke that away from home Gini was far less effective.

“The hope was that he would translate his home form to our travels but unfortunately the reverse happened, and from the turn of the year he was virtually a passenger.

“His 11 goals saw him finish as our top scorer, but that Norwich performance and a couple in our final-day, post-relegation thumping of Tottenham Hotspur gave that total a generous boost.”

Smith touched upon a strange phenomenon, in that Wijnaldum was significantly more influential at St. James’ Park than he was away from home.

All 11 of his goals in the English top flight came in Newcastle, and while he impressed on his debut for Liverpool away to Arsenal, Smith’s words rang true during his anonymous display in Burnley.

 

Wijnaldum vs. Burnley

SANTA CLARA, USA - Saturday, July 30, 2016: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum in action against AC Milan during the International Champions Cup 2016 game on day ten of the club's USA Pre-season Tour at the Levi's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As at the Emirates, Wijnaldum took up his place on the left-hand side of Klopp’s three-man midfield at Turf Moor, joining Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana as part of the midfield three.

Henderson sat deepest, charged with breaking up attacks and dictating play with crisp passing, while Wijnaldum and Lallana were given box-to-box duties, providing industry off the ball but also incision moving into attack.

While some of Liverpool’s failure on Saturday can be attributed to the absence of Sadio Mane—Wijnaldum’s fellow summer signing who was missing with a shoulder injury—Klopp’s insistence on utilising the same structure as against a more adventurous Arsenal was the primary failing.

With Sean Dyche’s Burnley holding firm, with two banks of four peppered with defensive quality in the likes of new arrival Steven Defour, the tenacious Dean Marney and the indefatigable George Boyd, Liverpool were unable to probe as they did in north London.

Whenever the Reds pushed forward, with Lallana more advanced than Wijnaldum, they were thwarted by a well-drilled Clarets defence; whenever they attempted to switch it wide, the out-of-sorts Nathaniel Clyne and out-of-position James Milner failed to capitalise.

The Reds were restricted to long-range efforts throughout, as the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino looked to test Tom Heaton from outside the area, with 17 in total:

Liverpool Shots out of Area vs. Burnley 1

But while Liverpool were unable to pick the locks in Burnley‘s solid defensive setup, the majority of Klopp’s performers can be given some credit.

This can hardly be said of Wijnaldum, however, who drifted into the periphery throughout: the 25-year-old moved the ball around neatly, completing 92 percent of his attempted passes, but lacked the impetus to prompt attacks as he did against Arsenal.

He made more key passes (three) than at the Emirates (two), but unlike on his Liverpool debut, each of these resulted in hopeless long shots, rather than clear opportunities in the box.

He saw significantly more of the ball, making 97 touches to his 53 last weekend, but this came with Liverpool enjoying 80.4 percent of possession.

Rather than pressing high, keeping the opposition on their toes, Wijnaldum remained in his own half for much of the afternoon—though this was largely dictated by the poor positioning of Milner, with the No. 5 often stuck covering Klopp’s makeshift left-back.

Statistically, the Reds dominated, but the shrinking displays of the likes of Wijnaldum contributed to their failure to break Burnley down.

 

No Place For Passengers

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 14, 2016: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum in action against Arsenal during the FA Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That Wijnaldum’s reluctant display at Turf Moor was reminiscent of those muted away-day performances while at Newcastle should be a concern for Klopp.

The midfielder himself acknowledged after the game that “sometimes you have the kind of games that it doesn’t work, and you have to keep your confidence and look forward,” but there was little conviction in his testimony on the pitch.

This was a player seemingly devoid of the assurance and ruthlessness that Klopp requires in tough away games.

“Consistency is the only way to be successful,” the manager said at the end of pre-season, “all of these big jumps in performance, up and down, don’t help.”

Comparing Wijnaldum’s display against Arsenal and on Saturday against Burnley highlights this, with an inconsistency hampering his influence, and ultimately hampering Liverpool’s ability to break lines and test Heaton between the sticks.

It was likely a performance familiar to Newcastle supporters, and one that Klopp will need to stamp out if Wijnaldum is to justify his £25 million price tag.

If Klopp is to realise his ambition of success on Merseyside this season, he needs all of his key players performing consistently, and showing the best and worst of his game over two away fixtures so far, Wijnaldum will need to iron out his kinks to ensure this is possible.

A trip to White Hart Lane for Liverpool’s next Premier League outing should prove the perfect test.



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