Georginio Wijnaldum Talks Title Race Pressure, Role at Liverpool, Exit Rumours

Christopher Simpson@@CJSimpsonBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2019

Georginio Wijnaldum of Liverpool FC during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 match between Liverpool FC and Bayern Munich at Anfield on February 19, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum is enjoying the Premier League title race this season and believes his team-mates can handle the pressure it brings.

The Reds can regain top spot from Manchester City on Sunday if they avoid defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which would also increase their lead over third-place Tottenham Hotspur.

Wijnaldum told Oliver Holt for the Mail on Sunday:

"I am quite confident that we can deal with the pressure but it is always easy to say it. If you ask at the beginning of the season, would you prefer to have the pressure of playing to be champion or play without pressure but that means you're not going to win anything, everyone chooses playing under pressure. 

"It makes the game more fun if you have three teams playing to be champion. I am enjoying it. Who's going to make the mistake? Who is going to go to the end? I like it."

Unlike last season, when City waltzed to the title 19 points ahead of their closest rival, this campaign has seen Liverpool compete for the top spot with the Sky Blues throughout the campaign.

City are seven points back on what they had after 27 matches last season, and the Reds have capitalised on that dip, collecting 14 more in this campaign than they had over 26 games last term.

Much of that improvement has been thanks to the impact of centre-back Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson, who have made Liverpool far more resilient, but the form of players like Wijnaldum has also contributed.

The Netherlands international isn't concerned about whether he gets recognition from elsewhere, though:

"I've heard people say that phrase 'unsung hero' about my role and maybe that's true, but that's not a problem for me. I know how my team-mates think about me and I know how the manager thinks about me and they really appreciate me. They don't see me how people outside the club see me. So that was not a big deal for me. I feel I'm loved by the other players and the manager so that's more important."

In the Reds' most recent Premier League match, Wijnaldum overcame illness to score in a 3-0 win over Bournemouth, and the Sunday Times' Jonathan Northcroft was impressed:

Jonathan Northcroft @JNorthcroft

Way Bournemouth played was tailor made for them, but Liverpool weren't too bad for a "pressured" team. Salah devastating, maybe Keita's best game in red, energy of Robertson/Milner ridiculous. But Wijnaldum...on 2 hours sleep...a catalyst. Gone from "ghost" to difference-maker.

Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry also singled out the 28-year-old ahead of their UEFA Champions League tie with Liverpool, per Goal's Ronan Murphy:

Ronan Murphy @swearimnotpaul

Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry on who Liverpool's key player is: "Georginio Wijnaldum. When I watch Liverpool games, he's everywhere. He works in the background, bridging the spaces between defence and midfield and has a very large impact on the Liverpool game." [Goal/DAZN] #LFC

Wijnaldum was not always so effective for the Reds, particularly in away games, but given his improvement this season, supporters will be glad he did not leave last summer.

Turkish outlet A Spor linked him with a move to Fenerbahce following the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho (h/t TalkSport), but leaving did not cross his mind:

"The thing that irritated me was that a lot of stories appeared in the media saying I wanted to leave. It didn't bother me that Liverpool were signing players. When they signed me, they already had good players. It was annoying. I didn't like those stories.

"I spoke with the manager about it. Actually, he spoke with me. He was surprised about the stories. It was a surprise for me, too. I don't know if he really thought that I said it. The manager said 'you're not leaving' and I told him I didn't want to leave. I like Liverpool. I like the club and I like the fans. The people appreciate me. That's the most important thing."

Keita and Fabinho are starting to show their potential at Anfield, but both have taken time to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League.

Wijnaldum's form has allowed them to do so, and along with Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain—when he returns from his long-term knee injury—Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has an array of strong midfield options to call upon.

While perhaps no side can match City's strength in depth, Liverpool's midfield is playing its part in keeping the team in the title race, and Wijnaldum has been an important component in that.