Gini Wijnaldum is one of Jurgen Klopp’s most trusted players — yet he does not make the best XI of most Liverpool fans.
Wijnaldum, 30, is into his fifth season at Anfield and there are still a lot of people who do not know what he does.
At times, the Dutchman is both overrated and underrated, overvalued and undervalued. He is misunderstood despite everything he does being put under the microscope.
With his contract expiring at the end of the campaign, Serie A champions Inter Milan, as well as Roma, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, are keen on the former PSV man.
Ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Crystal Palace this afternoon, we turn the spotlight on how he would be missed by the the Reds and explore how easily he could be replaced.
A team player
Wijnaldum moved to Anfield as a goalscoring midfielder.
During his first season at the club, he played the part to perfection, chipping in with some big goals — six to be exact — as the Reds claimed a top-four place.
With Liverpool tweaking their style to make the most of their full-backs, their No5 was forced to adapt.
He was used more as a facilitator, filling in out wide when Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold pushed on.
With injuries to others, the one-time Feyenoord youngster was then deployed as the deepest midfielder.
He put the team ahead of himself. His individual output suffered but the club went on to win everything.
The one constant
Of the 188 Premier League matches played by Liverpool since his arrival from Newcastle in July 2016, Wijnaldum has featured in 176.
He has appeared in a minimum of 33 league matches for the Reds in every campaign.
For context, the last time Jordan Henderson matched that was before Klopp’s arrival and Fabinho has yet to make 30 Premier League appearances for Liverpool in a single season.
Everyone else gets the plaudits but it is often Wijnaldum holding down the fort. Availability is an underrated trait in the modern game.
The man for the big occasion
The 73-cap Dutch international is not a frequent goalscorer for Liverpool. He has netted just 16 league goals across five seasons and 22 in all competitions.
But when he does score, it is usually decisive.
During 2016-17, his goals played a part in wins over Manchester City and Arsenal. He also opened the scoring in the must-win clash against Middlesborough on the final day of the season.
He scored in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Roma in 2017-18 and repeated the trick against Barcelona the following term.
The big decision
Klopp and the recruitment team need to decide which version of Wijnaldum they want to replace.
If they want a robust midfielder who can play as the deepest in a three as well as a box-to-box role, that will be a very small yet very expensive pool of players to pick from.
Yves Bissouma, Sander Berge and Ryan Gravenberch have all been named as potential targets — but none tick all of the Wijnaldum boxes.
The Reds might have to sacrifice one or two elements when signing their replacement. However, that might not necessarily be a bad thing.
The evolution of Liverpool’s midfield
Klopp only reverted to a 4-3-3 shape because he did not have the players capable of executing the 4-2-3-1 system he was wedded to at Borussia Dortmund.
Now, though, he does.
In Fabinho and Thiago, Liverpool have midfielders who can dominate and dictate in a two. This frees up a space for a more attack-minded player — someone like Curtis Jones — to flit between the middle and attacking thirds.
If this is the long-term plan, it would allow the Reds to target players of a similar ilk to Houssem Aouar, Rodrigo De Paul and Pedro Goncalves.
Replacing Wijnaldum with an exact fit will be almost impossible — which explains why Liverpool might be taking an entirely different approach.