By 90Min
May 08, 2019

There was a moment, late in the game with the score at 4-0, as Liverpool ran on sweat and adrenalin, that summed up Gini Wijnaldum better than his two goals in as many minutes.

As Liverpool broke against Barcelona, knowing that keeping the ball was the utmost priority, Divock Origi chested the ball down on the halfway line to Wijnaldum. There was probably no better player in the world to receive it.

The Dutchman, already the hero of the game, did what he does better than almost anyone. With Clement Lenglet in front, he twisted back away from danger, using his body to shield the ball, a textbook and largely unremarkable manoeuvre except for the coolness of its execution.

Then, with Arthur and Sergio Busquets bearing down like seagulls on an unattended portion of chips, Wijnaldum suddenly cut back, taking two of the world's top pre-eminent midfielders out of the game, freeing space, eliminating danger, edging Liverpool towards Madrid.

This is the other side of Jurgen Klopp's press. If you face it every day in training, naturally it's going to make you better at keeping the ball under pressure.

This is Wijnaldum's great, but woefully under-appreciated skill. He has done similar moves in the Premier League almost every week: receive, retain, pass. Receive, retain, pass. 

Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

He is the perfect link between defence and attack for a team that thrives on quick transitions, yet his part is often the least valued in the team, with the obvious imperiousness of Virgil van Dijk and the rapier effectiveness of the forwards hoarding the plaudits.

Since his £25m move from Newcastle in the summer of 2016, Wijnaldum has looked to the casual observer like a peripheral figure in the Reds' rise to becoming one of Europe's best.

Indeed, last summer with the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho (and with Nabil Fekir still pre-medical) it looked like Wijnaldum might become a casualty of Liverpool and Klopp's ambition.

As fans on social media fantasised about their dream starting XIs for the opening day of the season against West Ham, precious few would have included Wijnaldum at its beating heart.

Instead, as Keita and Fabinho took time to settle on Merseyside, Wijnaldum was an engine room ever-present, stopping attacks, wriggling out of the un-wriggle-able, and locating the danger men - all while never losing his cool.

Over his career, Wijnaldum has played in almost every outfield position, from goalscoring midfielder in the Netherlands and with Newcastle to holding midfielder, emergency centre back and even to false nine at Liverpool and not looked out of his place. His talents are pretty much positionless.

When you have the technique of an attacking playmaker, the awareness and passing of a number six and the physical strength and endurance of a full back, where can't you play?Wijnaldum is the sort of player Barcelona used to pride themselves on creating. Now he is leaving them for dead.

While his forward's role in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final was a grand plan that resulted in admirable failure, Tuesday night was perfection by accident.

Introduced only at half-time after injury to Andy Robertson, the Dutchman admitted he was 'really angry' to be left out of the starting lineup.

Gini when he's angry belongs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From metronome to soloist in the heavy metal orchestra, Wijnaldum was both subtle master and blunt destroyer as Liverpool sealed their best European victory since Istanbul.

On a gala night, when the energy of the Anfield crowd fizzed and crackled with pregnant, daring hope, it was the coolest, quietest man on the pitch who drove them on, making the impossible look simple and finally taking centre stage.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)