Tuesday 18 June 2019

Wijnaldum's powers of recovery help Reds return to top form

DUTCH MASTER: Georginio Wijnaldum scores Liverpool’s second against Bournemouth on Saturday with a neat lob. Photo: Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
DUTCH MASTER: Georginio Wijnaldum scores Liverpool’s second against Bournemouth on Saturday with a neat lob. Photo: Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

Simon Hughes

"I was like, oh no," Georginio Wijnaldum thought as the half time whistle was blown at Anfield on Saturday with Liverpool leading, 2-0. There was no feeling of an opponent's recovery like in each of his team's two previous fixtures but rather, a pending bowel movement.

The midfielder had scored a sumptuous goal having forced himself to play despite suffering from diarrhoea for two days. A tablet had eased the pain in his knee but one of the potential reactions was stomach cramps.

Pressure point: ‘People say they’re under pressure, they’re not are they? I just think it was a little blip,’ said Ryan Fraser. Photo: Mark Kerton/PA Wire
Pressure point: ‘People say they’re under pressure, they’re not are they? I just think it was a little blip,’ said Ryan Fraser. Photo: Mark Kerton/PA Wire

"I was vomiting and everyone was a little bit scared," Wijnaldum explained. "I didn't train on Friday and I didn't sleep at the hotel either because they thought I might infect other players. The manager called me and said 'do you think you can play?' I said I was as positive as I could be, though in the morning I was still weak.

"The tablets helped [the knee] a lot but even at half-time I had to run off to get to the toilet. I ran inside and I managed to control it…"

Wijnaldum has been one of Liverpool's most consistent performers in what has been their best league season to date for a generation. He is not spectacular but he does the simple things well and quickly, retrieving possession by stealing and protecting it.

Jurgen Klopp believes there are few better at getting themselves between the ball and the person trying to take it from him. Liverpool looked a much better side with the Dutchman's dynamism in it. A lot more made sense. His presence afforded a healthier balance, enabling Klopp to use Naby Keita in a slightly deeper position.

Keita was involved in each of Liverpool's three goals and at the end, Klopp went over to him and whispered something in his ear. It is fair to say Liverpool could have expected more from Keita having gone to such lengths to recruit him.

Supporters get frustrated because he does not always chase back with the enthusiasm of others. But you can tell a player is there, the way he glides through midfield and often only needs one touch to direct the traffic.

Willing

Klopp thought that Keita played well in the second half at West Ham but few were willing to talk about it because of the result. "It was a big step, this game," Klopp said of his influence against Bournemouth.

"Maybe people liked to talk more about the negative things from the first half with Naby; it was not good at West Ham, that's no problem. We will probably see a couple of bad halves from Naby in the future, that's completely normal. But it was clear the whole week the second half was really important to him. The position was clearer and clearer.

"Today was a really good game. There is still a lot to come because he is still adapting. Sometimes it takes longer, that's how it is. People lose patience, that's normal - but we don't. Today was obviously one of the best games he's played."

Klopp could have selected Jordan Henderson from the start or used Adam Lallana but he went for Keita because he wants him to get into a rhythm and this meant "he was pretty much one of the first on the teamsheet." Keita turned 24 on Sunday and Klopp accepts that his signings will not perform at their truest until they have understood his own methods.

"Adapting to what we want always leads [to] a little drop," he reasoned, though it does seem that Keita is also not used to the physicality of English football generally and he will need to challenge with greater gusto if he is to fully flourish.

It must have helped Keita that the atmosphere inside Anfield was so positive. Supporters were asked to arrive earlier than usual to build a sense of occasion and though the stadium remained relatively quiet in the warm up, at kick off the noise was deafening.

On the substitutes' bench with Henderson for the first time in a month following injury was Trent Alexander-Arnold, a boyhood Liverpool fan: "I said to Hendo that I had never seen a 3pm game at Anfield on Saturday like that before.

The scarves, the flags, the banners: it was something I hadn't really experienced. It was something new for me and hopefully the support will continue. It shows with the support of the fans that we can go out and put performances in such as this. This is what we need to push on."

Klopp thinks too much has been made of the supposed tension that exists inside Anfield, as the club tries to win its first league title in 29 years. In his reflections, Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, recognised the energy from the terraces had fused with the energy on the pitch and this made Liverpool irresistible.

Listening to Ryan Fraser, Bournemouth's Scottish winger, you got the impression he felt the hysteria after the disappointment of Liverpool's two previous results was quite ridiculous. "They only got beaten in one game, and you know what it's like," he said. "People say they're under pressure. They're not, are they? They're still at the top of the league. I just think it was a little blip."

Steve Cook, the Cherries defender, revealed that it had been his team's aim to "frustrate" Liverpool and "make them edgy."

"Obviously, we didn't," he admitted. "The atmosphere here today was really good. The Liverpool fans got behind their team. I'm sure they're going to play a huge part from now until the end of the season. On this showing, it's hard to see Liverpool dropping too many points again."

(© Independent News Service)

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