(CNN)Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum has credited boss Jurgen Klopp for breathing new life into his game.
The 29-year-old was bought by the Reds in 2016 and has developed into an important member of the well-oiled winning machine, playing a pivotal role in his side’s Champions League success last season. However, the player he is now is very different from the one that arrived at Anfield from Newcastle and he says such a transformation is down to Klopp.
“He gave me the confidence to join Liverpool and develop more as a player,” Wijnaldum told CNN Sport.”I was more of an attacking player, scoring goals. I didn’t defend that much but now I also regain balls and help the team have a better balance. In that way, he helped me a lot.” Read MoreREAD: Can Leicester City upset the odds and win another Premier League title? Jurgen Klopp signed Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle in 2016. ‘Tough competition’Wijnaldum’s willingness to adapt his game to Klopp’s trademark system has reaped rewards.The Dutchman was shortlisted for this year’s Ballon d’Or award and has been involved in every game of Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the English Premier League season.It’s a record which has taken the Reds eight points clear of second-placed Leicester City, with Manchester City a further three points adrift. Despite the gap, Wijnaldum says his side cannot not take anything for granted, especially after it threw away a nine-point lead in the league last season. “You should always expect that your opponents could strike back,” he added, saying Klopp was determined for the side to keep its feet firmly on the ground. “The Premier League is such a tough competition, if you look at the last couple of games […] we didn’t win those games easy, we were really fighting to get the points.”READ: Anguish of Hillsborough families continues
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Wijnaldum on racism: I would walk off the pitch, even in UCL Final 03:51Derby day nextNext up for Klopp’s side is a mouthwatering derby tie against local rivals Everton Wednesday.Whilst Liverpool has been flying high, its neighbor has been struggling at the opposite end of the table and suffered a heartbreaking last-minute loss to Leicester Sunday. The poor run of results has piled pressure on Blues manager Marco Silva, whose side is just two points off the relegation zone. Despite their polarizing fortunes, Wijnaldum is aware of the threats posed by the Toffees in what has always been a feisty affair.”Every club is looking for a moment to strike back, and I think for Everton, there will be a perfect moment to strike back because its a derby,” he said.”It’s the biggest game for Everton supporters, so if you can strike back in that game it will give a lot of confidence so it’s going to be even harder.”We just have to make sure we deal with that situation.” Wijnaldum inspired his side to UEFA Euro 2020 qualification. International glory In addition to domestic success, Wijnaldum is very much part of his national side’s rise from the ashes. Alongside Liverpool teammate Virgil van Dijk, he has helped Holland qualify for next year’s European Championship — repairing some of the damage caused by not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Manager Ronald Koeman, previously in charge of Everton, has successfully blended a number of experienced heads with a crop of young players with plenty of potential. Asked whether his country could win Euro 2020, Wijnaldum said: “You have to play good, you have to grow during the tournament and sometimes you also need luck.”We have to see if we can deal with the pressure during the tournament.”
Wijnaldum has been keen to use his elevated platform to raise awareness of racism within the game and has called for tougher sanctions for such abuse.During a recent game against Estonia, Wijnaldum celebrated a goal by pointing to his skin in protest to recent racist incidents that have marred Dutch football.