Cody Gakpo has played four games for Liverpool – all starts – which is obviously a very small sample size to judge him. As a result, this is by no means a proper appraisal – merely a summary of what we’ve seen so far and what might be influencing his performances.
The start of this year has been pretty horrible for Liverpool fans, football-wise, and through the entire Klopp tenure, it feels perhaps the hardest time to have come in as a new signing, bar perhaps when Taki Minamino joined and almost immediately went into lockdown.
If it wasn’t for the injuries to half our attackers, it’s unlikely Gakpo would have played nearly as much. Remember Fabinho and Andy Robertson sat on the bench for months until Klopp deemed them up to speed, and at this point they entered a winning side and the transition was smooth. The Dutchman hasn’t been given this luxury.
Gakpo has been thrust into a massively underperforming team and has so far struggled to show the skill and composure he delivered consistently for PSV in the first half of the season. His best position though is on the left-wing and although he’s got minutes in this role, namely on debut v Wolves, Jurgen Klopp has chosen to use him centrally in the absence of Darwin Nunez and Roberto Firmino through injury.
Against Brighton in our hideous 3-0 loss, he started up top with Mo Salah, with Thiago as a no.10 behind them. It frankly didn’t work. In our next two games, the 1-0 win over Wolves in the FA Cup Replay and the 0-0 with Chelsea, Gakpo was a centre-forward in our more traditional 4-3-3. It was interesting to see Klopp pick him centrally on Saturday lunchtime with Salah right and Harvey Elliott left. Salah could have played in the middle, a position many think he is now more suited to given his lack if involvement in the buildup, with Elliott on his more favoured right-flank, allowing Gakpo another chance on the left.
Perhaps though with Luis Diaz the natural long-term pick on the left, and Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez both capable in this position, Klopp plans to use Gakpo as a false-9, someone who can drop off and create space for the inverted wingers.
Highlight packages suggested Gakpo was an attacker with pace, but the reality is he’s not lightning quick. He hasn’t made many runs in behind and hasn’t looked to beat a defender with raw-speed, like Nunez does regularly, for example. He does however have better feet than Darwin and the ball sticks to him. Gakpo’s shooting so far has been rushed, but he strikes a ball more cleanly than Firmino, who is good at one-touch close-range finishes but not anything that requires power from beyond the penalty spot.
Gakpo then could become a hybrid of Firmino and a more traditional goalscorer for us. With Bobby in his thirties, Gakpo could provide minutes as a deep-lying forward, happy to press and link up attackers, but also provide a physical, goalscoring threat himself.
He hasn’t set the world alight so far, but given the circumstances, it would be insane if he had. Salah has been very poor alongside him and his team-mates are not giving him the ball in space.
When Diaz joined last January, the atmosphere around the team and club was very different. The fans were buzzing and momentum was with the Reds. It enabled the Colombian to express himself and his lively start then inspired his team-mates to even better levels. Gakpo has joined a team bereft of confidence, running and a frustrated fanbase confused as to why no new midfielders have joined.
Truthfully, I was hoping to see a little more spark and genius from him so far, but he can be forgiven for his lack of contributions. He’ll be given time by the Liverpool to support to find his feet, as the step up from the Dutch league to the Premier League has probably never been bigger.