Liverpool were absolutely demolished on Saturday afternoon at The Etihad stadium with Manchester City running rampant to score five goals.
Regardless of the fact that Sadio Mané was sent off with an hour to play, the Reds were embarrassed against one of their closest rivals.
Despite Sergio Aguero’s opening goal before Mané’s dismissal, there is no denying that until Liverpool were forced to play with 10 men that they were a very good match for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Yet, with the way Liverpool were playing in midfield there was always the chance that City’s clever midfielders in the likes of Kevin De Bruyne would pinch the ball and punish their visitors.
That’s exactly what happened for the first goal where it was given away cheaply in midfield and De Bruyne split the centre-halves for Sergio Aguero who rounded Simon Mignolet and slotted home.
For me, although Jordan Henderson and Emre Can didn’t cover themselves in glory, I was furious with Georginio Wijnaldum. He might have been superb against Arsenal two weeks ago but that’s one positive performance this season out of six.
When Liverpool signed the Dutchman from Newcastle United last summer, I was not worried about “signing a relegated midfielder” or any of that clichéd jargon but more by the fact that Newcastle fans intimated that he was incapable of turning it on away from home.
And that’s exactly what we’ve seen so far.
Every single goal that Wijnaldum has scored for Liverpool has been at Anfield with tens of thousands of Reds encouraging him. His winner against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve in 2015, his equaliser against Chelsea last year, a leveller against Burnley and that goal against Middlesbrough last season have all come at home.
These, and more, are the goals that Wijnaldum has scored for Liverpool but it’s not his goals that I’m worried about because Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino will take care of that.
It’s his all-round midfield showing that is concerning me. He is a player that is seemingly incapable of changing the tempo of a game and tends to match the pace at which a match is played at. As a midfielder for a club like Liverpool, controlling the game is paramount.
Although he scored an important goal against Boro in the final game of the season last term, I cannot shake the feeling that Wijnaldum is incapable of taking a game by the scruff of the neck and pointing it in the direction he wants or more importantly, that Liverpool needs.
It’s for this reason that Liverpool struggled immediately after the Manchester City game on New Year’s eve because Jordan Henderson missed much of the rest of the season with injury. Not long after Hendo was out with a foot injury, Philippe Coutinho was injured against Sunderland.
Jürgen Klopp was then left without the creative force that is Coutinho and the influential passing of Henderson.
Although many pundits and supporters believe that the sole reason the Reds struggled so much in January and February was because Sadio Mané was out, it was due to the fact that creativity was absent and Wijnaldum was unable to provide the missing inspiration or exert any control over the games played in that barren run.
With ambitions of winning silverware this season, Liverpool need to be fielding their strongest possible starting XI and when Klopp has a fully fit side, this doesn’t feature Wijnaldum.
Say what you will about the summer’s drama, Philippe Coutinho is now back at Melwood training and according to Klopp’s most recent press conference, fully fit and ready to play a part.
Looking at the midfield three which has so far been the preferred trio in the middle of the park, it’s very difficult to see Jordan Henderson or Emre Can getting the hook anytime soon. On the other hand, I see it as the best option for Wijnaldum to be replaced by Coutinho.
Given that massive money offers from Barcelona were rejected over and over for Coutinho, it’s obvious that Klopp will make use of him and sooner rather than later.
With a massive game on Wednesday against Sevilla, Coutinho is likely to come back into the squad and I see it as ideal for Wijnaldum to make way. Although Sevilla are a side blessed with great attackers, Liverpool shouldn’t be afraid to feature their full complement of attacking gems.
A front three of Firmino, Salah and Mané supported by Coutinho will certainly give Liverpool an offensive edge this season few clubs can boast. If Wijnaldum drops to the bench it only serves to strengthen the Reds’ options from the bench with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also a great midfield option from the bench.
What Klopp decides to do, however, is often not what we’d expect. With that in mind, it’s fair to assume that Coutinho will be eased back into action with a cameo from the bench.
In the long term though, Wijnaldum can’t be starting week in, week out if there are players like Coutinho available for selection in his place. For now, Liverpool should be okay with two home games in a row – right up the Dutchman’s alley.