Gini Wijnaldum’s contract expires at the end of the season and his time at Liverpool is coming to an end. The Dutch midfielder has been at the Reds for five years. A key cog in Jurgen Klopp’s machine, which has won the Champions League and Premier League in recent years. Wijnaldum is 30 years old and can’t agree on a contract which reflects his importance to the squad. For all his success with the Reds, this situation divides opinion on whether he should be given a new contract. One thing that cannot be debated is Wijnaldum has been a great servant to the club and will go down as a cult hero. The Liverpool recruitment team will have to be diligent in the transfer market to find a replacement for the Dutchman.
Wijnaldum’s successor will have to bring some of his best traits that he has provided for the Reds. Throughout Klopp’s tenure at the club, Wijnaldum has been one of his most trusted soldiers. The midfielder is one of the first names on the team sheet due to his availability. The Dutchman has accumulated over 225 appearances over the course of 5 seasons at the Reds, which is a very impressive feat.
|Gini Wijnaldum’s Premier League Appearances|
|2020-21||31 Apps and counting.|
As the table shows, he can play at least 33+ matches in a 38 game Premier League campaign. Wijnaldum has been injury-free throughout his stint at Liverpool and this has proved to be very useful. Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have picked up injuries and Wijnaldum has been a mainstay in the side partly down to staying fit. A replacement for him would have to hold a great injury record. Buying another injury-prone midfielder to replace Wijnaldum would be counterproductive.
Another invaluable trait the Dutchman has is his ability to execute Klopp’s game plans to perfection. To the dismay of some, Wijnaldum has transformed from a goalscoring attacking midfielder. He has become a more mature, selfless, and reliable player. He strips back parts of his game to benefit the Reds ‘system’. In his last season for Newcastle, Wijnaldum found the net 11 times for a relegated side in the league. He hasn’t quite achieved the same numbers since he’s been part of a midfield spine which sets the foundation for the Liverpool full-backs Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson to play make and create opportunities for the forward line. The 30-year old’s ability to retain and recycle possession helps the side get control of football games.
Wijnaldum has a solid technical base which means he rarely ever gives the ball away. His pass completion of 92% this campaign proves how reliable he is on the ball; however, many argue that he plays safe passes and doesn’t take many risks on the ball. Whether it’s an instruction from Klopp or just a trait Wijnaldum has, the Dutchman is inclined to be more risk-averse on the ball. A progressive and more adventurous passer may be on the agenda for the Liverpool recruitment team this summer.
One of the biggest positives of Wijnaldum’s time at the Reds is the ‘clutch’ (high-pressure situation) goals he has scored! Although he isn’t a regular goal scorer, he tends to pop up with some vital goals in big games where his team has needed it. A brace against Barcelonaat Anfield, which led the comeback from a 3-0 deficit will go down in folklore! Another key goal on the last day of the 16/17 campaign to clinch Champions League qualification also comes to mind.
I will go into detail on my top three Wijnaldum replacements and why they would be great fits for Liverpool.
YVES BISSOUMA – BRIGHTON
Brighton’s Yves Bissouma is the most similar replacement to Wijnaldum in this list. Despite the Seagulls flirting with relegation, this has been a breakout season for Bissouma and he has impressed this campaign. The Malian is a highly promising, robust, and combative midfielder who has progressed enormously under the stewardship of Graham Potter. Brighton is a side that likes to play progressive football and Bissouma has flourished in the defensive midfield role. The 24-year-old is tasked with breaking up play, recycling possession, and providing the link between front and back for Brighton. Although Bissouma doesn’t get forward as much Wijnaldum, that is an identical job specification to the Liverpool midfielder. He has the intelligence and defensive ability to cover the full backs when they venture forward.
Not only does Bissouma protect the defence but he’s also comfortable in possession and is press resistant. His ability on the ball is quite underrated, Bissouma has an 87% pass accuracy in the league. In addition to this, he is averaging 2.7 tackles and 1.3 dribbles per game. For a defensive midfielder 1.3 dribbles is quite high and he uses his strength and quick feet to beat players when getting pressed. He is someone who can receive the ball in tight spaces and evade pressure, this is highly desirable. Another trait Bissouma has which suits Liverpool is his ability to cover large spaces.
The midfielder is a great athlete and is comfortable covering ground due to his physical profile and high intelligence. One area Bissouma would need to improve is his attacking capabilities, although he does possess a good strike, Wijnaldum is more of a goal threat than him. Hopefully, this is something he can add to his game once he moves to a more dominant side. There will be a circle of sharks fighting for Bissouma and I believe Liverpool should be one of them.
FRANCK KESSIE – AC MILAN
Franck Kessie is the name on everyone’s lips since his impressive display for AC Milan against Manchester United in the Europa League. Although ending up on the losing side in the last-16 clash, Kessie bossed the midfield and gave a strong account of himself. Kessie is primarily an eight but can operate in a deeper role. He’s more of a complete midfielder than Bissouma as he offers both facets of the game.
The Milan midfielder is an all-action type of midfielder, who demands the ball and has a great engine. Playing in an eight role for Liverpool, he would offer a lot of quality on the ball as he’s able to break lines with his passing and be an excellent ball carrier to get the team up the pitch. The box to box midfielder has a great eye for goal. He has scored10 goals and 5 assists in his league campaign this season. Although some of these goals were penalties, these are fantastic numbers for a midfielder and the Reds could do with some more goal scorers around the team especially this season.
At 24 years old, Kessie represents great value and fits the FSG mould of bringing in younger players, developing them, and increasing their ability. He is yet to sign a new contract and his current deal ends at the next season, so Kessie might be available for a cut-price this summer. The Ivorian has a passing accuracy of 88% this season, averaging 1.3 tackles per and 1 dribble per game. The only concern the Liverpool recruitment team may have, is if his success will translate from Serie A to the Premier League as Football in England is a lot more intense and physical for midfielders, so Kessie may need time to adapt.
HOUSSEM AOUAR – LYON
Houssem Aouar is the alternative option on this list. The Frenchman is an interesting proposition who differs from Wijnaldum but offers Liverpool a different style of playing. The midfielder was closely linked with Arsenal last summer and was tipped to make the move, but the transfer fell through. He has caught the attention of many elite clubs as he shines for Lyon at a young age. 22 years of age means the Frenchman has lots of promise and would hope a big move is where he fulfils such talent.
Aouar is a playmaker, adventurous on the ball and takes more risks than the likes of Bissouma and Wijnaldum. He has excellent vision and can find forwards with his progressive through balls and close control dribbling. Aouar would be able to feed the likes of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, as he averages 4.84 progressive passes and 7.76 carries per game according to fbref.com. The Frenchman can use both feet and get past his opponent which is why Lyon who primarily uses him as an eight or ten, sometimes stick him on the left.
Aouar would represent a different style of playing for Liverpool, as there wouldn’t be such a reliance on the Reds’ fullbacks to create chances and dominate the ball. The likes of Aouar and Thiago would offer the opportunity to build-up play more centrally. I believe this has always been the plan to ease the burden of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson and play central midfielders who can offer more on the ball with the purchases of Keita, Chamberlain, and Thiago. However, injuries have curtailed this transition and we haven’t quite seen the switch.
Aouar has had a solid season, attaining 5 goals and 3 assists in Ligue 1, so the Reds can also look forward to some output from the young midfielder. Additionally, one major concern for the Frenchman would be, whether he has the defensive capabilities to play in Wijnaldum’s position in terms of covering large spaces and taking up positions that cut off counterattacks for the opposition. Aouar does his best work on the ball and it remains to be seen whether he has the intelligence and robustness to play in a ‘Klopp team’.
I will leave it up to the readers to decide who should be Gini Wijnaldum’s replacement. There’s no doubt Michael Edwards and the recruitment team will look to freshen up the side in a big summer ahead for Liverpool, as they attempt to reclaim their throne from Manchester City or fall by the wayside.