Premier League Transfer Analysis: Sadio Mane & Georginio Wijnaldum

​The awakening of the new football season is nearly upon us “Commuters” of the footballing society and as always, there is a sense of optimism, and scepticism regarding the widely renowned annual transfer window. Considering the wide variety of transfers already completed during the summer of 2016, a minute collection of chosen key transfer deriving from the five preeminent leagues of European football have been carefully selected to be analysed within this series of upcoming articles. The selected signings will be assessed on the following;

– How the signings attributes (talents, tactical tendencies) will benefit their new respective outfits.

– How the player will be deployed within the teams system/formation.

PART 1: Premier League 
Certified as the beautiful game’s most popularized league, English football’s highest tier exemplifies the ever increasing scales of funding through elaborate fees paid for many a lucrative player.
Two major deals that have subsequently grasped great quantities of attention are those linked to Saido Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum who were both acquired by five-time European Cup Champions Liverpool. Signed from Southampton for £36million and from Newcastle United for £25million respectively, the arrivals of both Mane and Wijnaldum bring forward an extra dimension to their respective positions and necessary depth to the Liverpool squad as a result.

Can the signings of two talented English based midfielders assist Liverpool in yet another push for Champions league football? The following analysis of Mane and Wijnaldum will justify whether improvements could be made from the 2015-16 campaign.

The talents immersed by Saido Mane will be held in high regard by the Liverpool faithful; a quick Right sided midfielder or deep-lying centre forward, the Senegalese international is very mobile and is consequently very intent on receiving the ball. The aggression displayed by Mane with and without possession of the ball emphasises the positive impact the attacker could have on the current Liverpool system and tactical preferences; managed by Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool tend to deploy “frontline pressurising” in strong similarity to tactics deployed by Klopp during his successful reign as manager of Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund. Mane will be admirably adequate in off-possession structure dictated by frontline pressurising, in the sense that the Winger will immerse good continuity with fellow attacking teammates. A theoretical example could be the switching of a 4-2-3-1 (a common formation deployed by Liverpool last season) to a flat 4-2-4 during opposition build up play located within defensive areas. 

The tactical change during gameplay would allow Liverpool to cement structure within the Liverpool attack, which would benefit upon regaining possession and creating a goal scoring opportunity. The tactical variation would also lead to the congestion of space within central areas, relinquishing the opportunities to pass between forward lines, which would also lessen the chances of counter attacks.
 Finally, the ignition of pressure on the opposition defence triggered by the movement and pressing of the four forwards with a sense of fluidity, yet in designated areas, would inevitably push the defence further towards their own goal, and force rash peripheral passes. 

   

Signed primarily however for the attribute offered while maintaining possession in attacking build up, Saido Mane is a superb dribbler, and is noted for his willingness to take on opposition markers. This abilities that Mane proudly beholds is exemplifies by attempting a total of 140 dribbles for Southampton during the 2015-16 campaign, completing a respectable 77. This valid statistic conveys a strong sense of intuitiveness and creativity woven together through effective dribbling, perhaps an aspect Liverpool lacked on the right hand side of midfield last season. Adam Lallana in sheer contrast attempted only 67 dribbles.

 The quality possessed by Mane regarding trickery implicates that Mane will be able to drift from the flank towards the half spaces and central areas, cutting inside to move closer towards dangerous areas. This in itself would allow the fullback the opportunity to overlap, adding to the number of options during attacking build up/chance creation, adding further threat a within 1 versus 1 situation, which would eventually become a 2 versus 1 situation. The impact of Mane dribbling within tight spaces would also disfigure the structure of the opposition defence resulting in a higher chance of runs made between defensive lines. With the possibility of possession structure being influenced by the direct dribbling of Saido Mane, it is arguable that Mane should be positioned within a central role, where the new signing would be able to receive the ball conveniently and on a more consistent basis with Liverpool still maintain momentum within possession build up while adding additional raw pace to central areas as well.

Progression has been displayed by Mane in a goal scoring respect; each season with a respective club has seen improvements in the goal department, though initial seasons with clubs have produced decent goal returns; Mane’s first season with Southampton (2014-15) resulted with 13 goals in all competitions, followed with two more goals last season. Man is adept at finding space through making diagonal runs between defensive lines, connoting the possible continuity through link up play. This extra dimension offered in wide areas may result in more goals for Liverpool in general next season.

An exemplar of a goal scoring midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum was perhaps the shining light in a rather disastrous season for Newcastle United, which ended in relegation to the football league. Newcastle United’s loss is certainly Liverpool’s gain, with Wijnaldum boasting similarities to Saido Mane, regarding the ability to score from midfield; Wijnaldum was the Magpie’s most potent threat, scoring 11 Premier league goals, even scoring on four occasions in a 6-2 victory over Norwich City. Wijnaldum is a cultured midfielder with the ability to carry the ball forward through midfield areas, forcing pressure from opposition, leading to space exposed, which can be ran into by teammates who could offer  productive passing interchanges. 

A key quality on the Dutch International’s behalf is an excellent range of versatility. Able to play almost anywhere across midfield, The addition of Georginio Wijnaldum offers Liverpool an array of tactical variations; in a typical 4-2-3-1 formation, Wijnaldum will function most likely as one half of a midfield pivot alongside the combative German Emre Can. This potential deep-lying central midfield partnership would offer a sense of balance; the strength and aggression offered by Can differentiates from the technicality and calmness displayed by Wijnaldum. 

Both Can and Wijnaldum will intend to venture into forward positions, making inventive runs through opposition lanes, so the balance will benefit Liverpool greatly; it would prove beneficial if one midfielder were to press into attacking areas at a time, in order to maintain structure and solidarity in midfield areas. When “sitting” within a deeper midfield role, Wijnaldum would be able to use his range of passing to good effect, linking with the like of Saido Mane, connecting with passes made towards and through the half spaces. 

Though less likely to play as a “10”, Wijnaldum would function efficiently as an “8”. Wijnaldum can prove to be effective by making forward runs in behind the opposition defence, which adds numbers in attack, and also brings the best out of fellow midfielder Philippe Coutinho, a Brazilian midfielder with brilliant ball control/circulation and the ability to play a fantastic through ball. The 4-3-2-1 formation may decrease the impact of frontline pressuring, but Wijnaldum would not be as intent regarding defensive duties, as a result of the extra man in the centre of midfield.
With both Georginio Wijnaldum and Saido Mane likely to be deployed in respective midfield roles, a higher amount of goal scoring opportunities will likely be supplied in an abundance. The in field movement of both Mane and Coutinho (within a 4-2-3-1 formation, the most likely layout for Liverpool.) would add pressure in central spaces through intricate passes and interchanges, emphasising the importance of the half spaces and centre regarding link up play and chance creation. 

Acres of space in wide areas would consequently be left vacant for the right and left full backs to move into adding to the numbers involved within the attack. The full backs ovoverlapping could be seen as forced rather than optional due to the overall lack of width in in midfield; the occupying of half spaces on behalf of both Mane and Coutinho would lead to the midfield becoming very narrow, yet making the overlapping necessary and beneficial in an attacking sense. 

Though the attacking notion of football Liverpool could quite possibly play is rather intriguing, it does bring negative drawbacks considering the supreme consequences of a failed attempt at an attack. For example, the overlapping runs of both full backs would force the Defensive midfield pairing of Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum to drop further back and cover wide areas left exposed by attacking defenders. This would leave the midfield heavily exposed thus disfiguring the team’s overall structure. The demand of covering deeper wide areas would not prove convenient for Wijnaldum, who lacks the defensive ability and awareness. 

If either deep-lying midfielder has made a foward run, it may be customary for the remaining half of the double pivot to form a wide defensive three with the centre backs. 

Another fault relating to this attacking motif that may be undertaken by Liverpool, is that because of the newly exposed space in the heart of midfield the opposition would launch a counter attack, with a collection of midfielders/forwards aiming to make runs through the midfield. The exposed space would ultimately force the central defensive pairing to pressurise, closing down the central space, which creates even further havoc following the exposing of the defensive lines, allowing the option of long passes to be played. 

It is arguable that this probable and likely 4-2-3-1 formation could work, of the full backs are energetic and tactically disciplined. The crossing range would need to be satisfactory in order to sustain admirable chance creation/conversion. As well as this, compactness in midfield is a necessity. The extra defensive midfielder adds a sense of solidarity that is required to protect the back four. 

Finally, what is the most suited role for Wijnaldum? A holding midfield functioning within a double pivot? Or an “8”. We will just have to wait and see.

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Author: Ryan Quinn

A freelance football journalist, focusing on the historical and tactical sides of the beautiful game.