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Why Wijnaldum is one of Liverpool's most important players

By Sam McGuire, Football Whispers

Liverpool have regained their swagger. The 4-0 win over Red Star in the UEFA Champions League made it back-to-back wins following a run of four games without a victory.

The scoreline didn't flatter Jürgen Klopp's team either and, on another night, the Reds could have run riot to rival their 7-0 triumph over Maribor at this stage of the competition last season. 

A key figure in the eye-catching performance at Anfield was Fabinho. The Brazilian made his full debut for his new side following on from his $40million signing in the summer, and it was clear he was eager to make up for lost time. 

He was a colossus in the center of the park, winning nine tackles, six aerial duels and finishing the game with a 90 per cent pass success rate. He was the clear man-of-the-match on the night while Xherdan Shaqiri was also lauded for his involvement in the Reds' biggest win since the opening day of the season.

The body-building ballerina, playing on the right of a three behind Mohamed Salah in a new-look system, danced his way to another assist to make it three assists in his last three games for the Merseysiders, while also playing arguably the pass of the match to get Andrew Robertson in down the left during the build-up to the opener. 

What shouldn't be overlooked, however, is Gini Wijnaldum's involvement in making all of this possible. The Dutchman was instrumental in bringing balance to the new shape.

The former Newcastle United attacker has been the one constant in an ever-changing Liverpool midfield this season.

He was tasked with being the man to anchor the trio in the middle third in the absence of Jordan Henderson earlier on in the campaign and he looked natural in the No.6 role – and that was with Naby Keïta adjusting to the rigours of a Klopp team. 

When captain Henderson returned to the starting XI he reverted to the position he's been deployed in for the majority of his time at Anfield. He covers for the full-backs, drifts into wide areas to occupy the space when necessary but, perhaps most importantly, he kept the play ticking over. 

He returned to the deepest midfield spot against Huddersfield Town when he replaced the injured Henderson at half-time. His arrival coincided with the Reds regaining control. He was visibly telling Shaqiri, playing in the middle third for this game, where he should be. 

And now he was the one chosen to partner Fabinho in, according to Klopp, the Brazilian's favoured system – with the double six. It shows the trust the manager has in his No.5. Yes, his hand might have been forced due to injuries to Keïta and Henderson. But Liverpool had the personnel to go with the customary 4-3-3 shape. 

The question usually associated with the dynamic Dutchman is 'What does Wijnaldum actually do?' But that has changed to 'What doesn't Wijnaldum do?'. 

The value he brings to the starting XI is there for all to see. He doesn't chip in with as many goals or assists as many would have probably liked, but his inclusion allows others to do that.

Klopp wouldn't name such an attacking XI, even against a team Liverpool are expected to beat, if he didn't think the balance of the team would've been right. Fabinho doesn't go on as many marauding runs. Shaqiri doesn't drift from the right into central areas. Simply put, the Reds aren't as rampant. 

He's currently one of the team's most important players and he could be key to Klopp's men navigating their way though the busy December period. 

READ MORE: Name the Premier League's top-scoring Spaniards

 
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