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Gini Wijnaldum leaves Liverpool with no doubts despite Thiago Alcantara clue – Liverpool Echo

Gini Wijnaldum leaves Liverpool with no doubts despite Thiago Alcantara clue – Liverpool Echo

Deep into injury time, the moment barely registered as a footnote of an absorbing afternoon. But it provided an accurate snapshot of the continued influence of one pivotal Liverpool player.

As Manchester City sought to put pressure on a tiring Reds defence, Gini Wijnaldum seized possession near his own area, burst into a sprint before being hacked to the ground by an agricultural challenge for which Kyle Walker was rightly booked.

It had been that kind of afternoon for Wijnaldum, fighting fires alongside Jordan Henderson in a two-man central midfield on which further onus was placed by Jurgen Klopp’s decision to start with a front four.

Indeed, it was when Wijnaldum had no option but to abandon his post and provide cover on the left flank that Kevin De Bruyne was left free to feed Gabriel Jesus for City’s equaliser in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at the Etihad.

That the Holland international had been entrusted to join his skipper in the role underlines the faith Klopp continues to have in the player.

Jordan Henderson (L) leans over teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) as he sits on the ground after picking up an injury during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Liverpool

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Whether in a holding midfield role, an attacking position, part of a two or three-man engine room, in a three-man defence or, at Barcelona 18 months ago, as a number nine, Wijnaldum has been a mainstay.

Since the start of the 2018/19 season, no Liverpool midfielder has featured for more minutes than Wijnaldum, a sign of both his quality and, perhaps just as importantly, durability.

The Dutchman has appeared in 80 of the last 84 Premier League games and sat out only two Champions League games since arriving at Anfield for £25million from Newcastle United in the summer of 2016.

Unsurprisingly, he has again been the midfielder on which Klopp has been most reliant this season.

Celebrating his 30th birthday today, these are interesting times for Wijnaldum.

A sign of his increased profile came with the announcement this week he will take over the captain’s armband of the Holland national team while stricken club team-mate and compatriot Virgil van Dijk recuperates from a serious knee injury.

But the greater indication of his importance came in the summer when former Dutch boss Ronald Koeman targeted the midfielder having taken over at Barcelona.

Circumstances dictated the transfer didn’t happen, with Wijnaldum entering the final year of his contract at Liverpool despite the capture of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich.

Thiago’s injury and coronavirus issues have limited the Spaniard to just 135 minutes since joining, with the Reds hopeful he could be back available for the Premier League visit of Leicester City, currently scheduled for Saturday week.

The sheer volume of games – Liverpool have 12 in 43 days when they return from the international break – means rotation will be the watchword in midfield.

But it was intriguing that on the only occasion Thiago, Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum were all available to play in the engine room, it was the Dutchman who was restricted to one minute from the bench as the other three started the 2-2 Merseyside derby draw at Everton last month.

A portent for the future or simply another example of Klopp’s horses for courses approach? Only time will tell.

One increasingly clear sign is this will be Wijnaldum’s final season with the Reds, talks having for some time stalled on a possible contract extension.

Few, though, would begrudge the Dutchman a free transfer come next summer, whether it is to Barcelona or another leading European club. His exemplary service at Anfield means there will be no doubts over his commitment in the meantime.

There is still more to come from Wijnaldum. And for a club that has made a habit of extracting value for money from the transfer market, that £25m has long since proven another superb piece of business from Liverpool.

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