Georginio Wijnaldum’s contract is set to expire next summer, which could leave Jurgen Klopp with a huge recruiting job to do.
The Dutchman was almost always present when Klopp joined the Newcastle Reds for £ 25 million in 2016. He is widely regarded as one of the most underrated players in Liverpool and often goes under the community radar football in the broad sense.
For those who don’t watch the Reds week after week, Wijnaldum may appear to be one of the weak links on the Liverpool side. It does not rank well in the statistics you would expect for such an important part of a winning Champions League team.
Goals and assists are hard to find for the 29-year-old – apart from the nights under the lights against Barcelona – and he does not record the defensive contributions in terms of tackles and interceptions that Jordan Henderson and Fabinho make .
As a result, replacing the Dutch midfielder is not as easy as finding midfielders who rank well in the areas you expect from the best team in the world. Wijnaldum has never obtained a high ranking in these areas and does not need it.
Instead, it brings a soothing influence that connects the room. He’s a good operator who could be irreplaceable, but whether he’s moving next summer or not, finding a midfielder of Wijnaldum’s caliber is much more difficult than it looks on the surface.
Therefore, we have to look beyond the data and towards the players who have a calming influence to link the game in the middle of all the calculated chaos provided by the sides of Klopp.
To find potential replacements for the 29-year-old player, first look at players who have the ability to play in a three-way midfielder, who offer defensive security and who fit the aggressive pressure mold that Klopp demands of its players.
From this credentials, we have described three players below who could potentially replace Wijnaldum in the Liverpool midfielder.
Youri Tielemans (Leicester)
The Belgian midfielder may well be Leicester’s equivalent of Wijnaldum.
In a team that includes the firepower of Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes, as well as the defensive actions of Wilfred Ndidi, Tielemans is often overlooked by the wider football world.
However, having made a notable development under Brendan Rodgers, the 22-year-old could be considered the perfect replacement for Wijnaldum.
The Belgian offers far more creativity to Leicester than Wijnaldum to Liverpool at the moment, but at 22 he still has a number of years to go before becoming a Wijnaldum-type midfielder.
Tielemans’ pass accuracy of 84.39% this season is considerably less than 92.1% of Wijnaldum, which shows that he is less averse to risk than the Liverpool midfielder. There is, however, no reason to suggest why Tielemans could not become the smooth operator that Wijnaldum is.
One caveat to that, however, is the fact that he prefers to play right from a three midfielder. Showing the ability to play left would also increase his chances of moving to Anfield.
Overall, a key part of this coming to fruition is how Rodgers is developing Tielemans over the next few months. For a manager who will most likely have a closer look at Klopp’s tactics than most, the former Liverpool boss could be crucial in this deal.
Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo)
Locatelli’s role for Sassuolo sees him play on the left side of the central midfielder, which closely matches Wijnaldum’s replacement profile.
The 22-year-old’s defensive performance this season shows that he is a clever midfielder who likes to break the game and put his side on the forefoot. While it is primarily Fabinho’s responsibility as a midfielder, the three Liverpool midfielders are responsible for defending to allow the side backs to create their freedom.
In order to replace Wijnaldum, Locatelli’s accuracy in terms of overtaking will have to be improved to provide this stable platform that the Dutchman has so well given to the Reds.
At just 22, however, his current performances are good reason to move to a future European elite club.
Weston McKennie (Schalke)
The young American midfielder will be relatively unknown to most, but he is currently playing well under David Wagner in the Bundesliga.
Wagner’s Schalke manages a very pressing game that lends itself well to Liverpool, which may be a good indication of McKennie’s ability to play in a similar system.
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The midfielder’s pace of work and his ability to go from box to box reflect to some extent Wijnaldum’s role for the Reds, but McKennie is undoubtedly a longer-term perspective.
Having made its first real impact on the German high-end in 2017/18, it should be considered an exciting prospect which will benefit from further development in the role of specialized midfielder.
If Klopp wants more information on the midfield, asking long-term best friend Wagner will be a huge advantage over other clubs when looking at the 21-year-old.