Liverpool won their 19th league title after an emotional 30-year wait. However, as remarkable as they were last season, their drop off in the Premier League has been unarguably worrisome. Among the many questions that need to be answered in the summer, Georginio Wijnaldum‘s contract situation is a pressing one.
The Dutchman has been one of Klopp’s most trusted players, having over 150 appearances in his career for the reds. However, FSG’s transfer committee is shrewd from a strictly financial point of view. In addition to being on the last year of his contract, Wijnaldum is 30 and is in the twilight of his peak. This makes moving on a win-win and likely scenario.
In this tactical analysis, we look at 5 players Liverpool should buy to replace Wijnaldum. We provide a statistical analysis of players that are similar to him and outline how they would fit into Liverpool’s tactics.
1. Renato Sanches (Lille)
The likelihood of this move is the highest on this list. Liverpool have sustained their interest in Sanches for a couple of seasons. This is due to the fact that Wijnaldum and Sanches are one of the most versatile utility players out there. Sanches has a respectable 88.5% pass success rate and averages 1.3 key passes 90.
Both players are utilised in different positions because of their inherent ability to shield the ball under pressure. What Liverpool need at the moment is a higher attacking output from their midfielders.
The above image highlights key statistics of Wijnaldum and Sanches in comparison with other midfielders in Europe. Creatively, 23-year-old Sanches places in a higher percentile in every metric and could provide the link between attack and defence that the Reds long for at times.
2. Mario Pasalic (Atalanta)
The 26-year-old Croatian plays a similar albeit more offensive role for Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta. Pasalic has played across the different positions on the midfielder spectrum and has found a lot of joy playing a second striker as well. The key similarity between Pasalic and the Dutchman is a tactical awareness that many technically gifted players lack.
The above comparison highlights key similarities and differences between the two players. While Pasalic unsurprisingly has a higher output offensively, he may have to improve upon his PAdj. Interceptions and Progressive Runs per 90 in order to fit into Liverpool’s system.
3. Seko Fofana (Lens)
Seko Fofana has had a strong season at Lens and has one of the most similar statistical footprints to that of Wjnaldum. Like the Dutchman, Fofana shields the ball in half-spaces and has a high work-rate. In terms of unpredictability, Fofana is more optimistic and problem-solves on the pitch – a trait that Liverpool could put to good use.
The above comparison highlights the similarities between the two players in key areas. However, in order to succeed at Merseyside, Fofana would need to convert his higher Shots-per 90 into better Touches in the Box per 90. This is because Liverpool are methodic in the final third and like to make one extra pass to arrive at a better position.
4. Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)
The 19-year-old Ryan Gravenberch is raved about in Ajax and is a bit of a hot take here. Though Gravenberch may not be a carbon copy of Wijnaldum, there are several reasons why this switch would be a step up for Liverpool.
Standing 190cm tall, Gravenberch specializes as a deep-lying number 6 – a position Wijnaldum is no stranger to. The argument here is to task the marquee Thiago Alcantara with Wijnaldum’s number 8 duties by investing in a versatile CDM. This would ease the pressure off Fabinho to hold things together.
The most impressive feature about the above image is the higher Deep Completions per 90 made by Gravenberch despite playing far deeper than Wijnaldum. The Dutch youngster’s well-balanced output in conjunction with his physical and technical abilities could do wonders for the Reds.
5. Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
Piotr Zielinski has been on Liverpool’s transfer radar since Klopp’s early years at the Kop. The Polish midfielder has arguably been Napoli’s most consistent player over the past couple of seasons and is a highly-rated box-to-box midfielder that can play different roles across midfield.
The difference in the above radar chart may be one that Liverpool require. Zielinski, while playing the role of a ball-recycler, records a better box-to-box output than Wijnaldum. This is attested by noteworthy Progressive runs per 90 in conjunction with a respectable Goals+Assists per 90, making Zielinski a well-rounded choice for replacing a versatile midfielder like Wijnaldum.