Editor’s Column: Why are Liverpool fans kinder to Nunez than Gakpo?

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Cody Gakpo has come in for some serious criticism since Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup.

Jamie Carragher unhelpfully tweeted that the Dutchman plays football like it’s in slow-motion during Gakpo’s dire cameo that saw Liverpool lose control of the game.

There can be no debate: he was bad. Most of the criticism has revolved around him messing up a five on two counter-attack when Liverpool were 2-1 up and cruising. He played the ball slightly behind Harvey Elliott who had to check his run, but to be fair, if Conor Bradley had overlapped on the right-hand side he’d have been able to square it for a tap-in.

Gakpo just lacked any bite or running, which is the opposite of what Jurgen Klopp expects from his attackers. This is probably why the manager spent much of the second-half berating Gakpo from the sidelines.

One of the issues is that he’s the antithesis of Darwin Nunez when it comes to perceived effort.

The Uruguayan often does silly things. He makes bad decisions, his touch can let him down and as his giving of the ball away in Extra Time for Manchester United’s equaliser proved, he’s more than capable of a big error in big moments. (In fairness, he’s also capable of huge goals in big moments, too). 

But fans, especially those watching Nunez live, forgive him his mistakes because of the frenetic energy he inserts into the team. He undeniably makes football exciting, even when he’s playing badly; and he makes it absolute box-office when he’s on-song. Nunez is often described as chaos, but this is a lazy word. It’s more that he’s always involved and does things at breakneck speed. The accusation of ‘going missing’ can never be directed his way, even if criticism of his game-intelligence certainly can be.

There’s also the element of Nunez overcoming his early problems and overt media scrutiny. Only Mo Salah, Erling Haaland and Ollie Watkins have more goals/assists than him this season in all competitions. He’s come good, which tugs at the heartstrings a little more as he’s so openly emotional. You can see what it means to him. You can see the running. His celebrations are better than anybody else’s.

Gakpo is so different. He’s cool, calm and composed. He doesn’t rush things. His touch is usually excellent and his technique is effortless and natural. He doesn’t miss the sitters Nunez does, but he doesn’t make the runs to get in those positions either. Gakpo is, to put it unsubtly, more boring than Nunez – so when he actually has a shocker – it feels like a bigger crime, because there’s a misconception that he hasn’t tried.

Of course he has. He’s a top-class professional footballer. He’s just so different in style to our other forwards. Like Nunez, Luis Diaz runs and works insanely hard. Also like his fellow South American, Diaz struggles with easy finishes, which for some reason makes him more endearing after the effort he’s put in to get there. Diogo Jota is a killer and a fighter and his finishing ability means he’s always respected even when he has a nothing-game. The reality is though, Jota is extremely injury prone. There’s no getting away from that. Mo Salah is Mo Salah. It’s almost unfair on the rest of our attackers to be compared to the Egyptian.

Gakpo is not having a bad season. Not by a long stretch. He’s been used up top, on the right, on his favoured left or as a no.8 in midfield. He often comes off the bench in one of these positions and is expected to have read and adjusted to the game-state. Despite playing in different positions, he’s scored 13 goals and got four assists in all competitions. Considering he’s our fifth choice forward, this is an unbelievable return. In Sadio Mane’s first full season at Liverpool, when everyone was wowed by his ability, he scored 13 goals in total, one year older than Gakpo is now.

A lot of Gakpo’s tidy work goes unnoticed, as it’s the stuff just outside of the box, or in the buildup to the final pass. He’s a very, very good player. He just had a stinker at Old Trafford in a game where his team-mates also lost their heads. If Klopp really wanted to get the best out of him, he’d play him on the left-wing every week and he’d build confidence and rhythm.

It’s not Klopp’s job from now until the end of the season to develop Gakpo though; it’s to win games for Liverpool – and there can be no complaints that he’s choosing Diaz on that flank. Gakpo’s versatility, but also the strengths of his team-mates have made it harder for him to secure the same spot in the side.

The irony is that a combination of Gakpo and Nunez’s best traits would make the perfect striker. Nunez’s unbelievable pace, runs, energy and intensity. Gakpo’s touch, deftness, ability to drop into space and shooting. What a player! Sadly, each has things they’re not very good at and it’s personal preference which set of traits frustrate more.

I’m drawn towards forgiving Nunez more readily because I love the emotion and excitement he provides, but I feel the hate Gakpo has received for essentially one bad match is absurd.

Let’s back them both. Back them all. There’s a Premier League to be won, and both will be crucial in getting it done.


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1 Comment

  1. I think the 5 on 2 debacle I was a culmination of Gakpo’s increasingly desperate recent performances. He has been making many more poor decisions as a result of him perhaps feel in less and less of a first choice striker. He clearly doesn’t trust the process and ends up taking an almost shoot on site policy when far better (for the team) options are available. This was even highlighted by his miserable look at the end of the Sparta game, having scored twice and with the team winning 6-1, failing to get his hat trick was far more important to him. It’s sad and depressing to watch and with 10-12 more games left this season every single poor decision made by any player becomes magnified because of the consequences. He has a lot of time to still put things right, but he absolutely has to start making the right decisions. YNWA

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