Six games, no goals: Gakpo to Liverpool hasn't worked yet - but could he be the new Firmino?
Six games, no goals, one win and three defeats. It’s fair to say that Cody Gakpo’s start to life at Liverpool has been a difficult one.
Where others in the past - Luis Diaz or Diogo Jota, for example - have been able to come in and immediately add something to a team in form, the Dutchman, signed from PSV in January for an initial £37 million ($45m), has arrived into a side whose confidence is at rock bottom, and whose decline seems to get steeper and more remarkable with each passing week.
Last weekend’s thrashing at Wolves marked a new low, in that regard. It left the Reds languishing in 10th place in the Premier League, out of both domestic cups and on a run of only one win in seven games in all competitions. A club in crisis? It certainly feels that way, even if Jurgen Klopp would no doubt disagree.
Little is functioning as it should at Anfield right now. Liverpool’s defence is creaking and its midfield is clearly not fit for purpose. The presence of Stefan Bajcetic, an 18-year-old rookie, and Naby Keita, whose contract is four months away from expiring, tells you that.
Perhaps most alarming, though, has been the drop off in Liverpool’s attacking output. Were you to remove the freak 9-0 win over Bournemouth in August, they have scored only 25 goals in 20 league matches this season - as many as Aston Villa and fewer than a Leeds side haunted by fears of relegation.
Injuries have certainly not helped. Jota has managed only eight appearances and Diaz only 12, while Roberto Firmino has not played competitively since November due to a calf issue. Darwin Nunez, too, has missed six matches, although three of those were due to suspension.
Mohamed Salah, then, has been the one attacking constant, and even the Egyptian has struggled to maintain his own sky-high standards. He is the club’s top scorer with 17 goals in all competitions, but has only three in his last 11 matches, and has looked increasingly worn down by the chaos unfolding around him of late.
One feels, then, for Gakpo, who has been thrown in at the deep end, straight into a starting XI that is changing by the week, and into a team that neither believes in itself nor frightens its opponents. This is Liverpool, but not as we know it.
“A difficult situation,” was how Gakpo described it this week, with neat understatement. The 23-year-old has started each of his side’s last half dozen matches, and hopes to retain his place for Monday’s Merseyside derby with Everton at Anfield. How he would love to get himself off the mark for his new club in such a significant fixture, too.
Klopp, for his part, has been quick to praise the new boy despite his goal-free beginning. “I am completely happy,” the Reds boss said at the end of last month. Gakpo, he insisted, was a “sensational” finisher, whose work-rate and defensive contribution is “outstanding”. To judge him after only a handful games, he added, was “not cool”.
He’s right of course, and there have certainly been glimpses of why Klopp, together with outgoing sporting director Julian Ward, was so keen to bring Gakpo to Merseyside, and why staff believe he can become a significant player for the club in the coming years.
But Liverpool’s attacking signings, generally, have made an immediate impact. Salah and Sadio Mane both scored on their debut and never looked back. Nunez was straight into the thick of things, Jota scored in his first Anfield appearance, and a year ago Diaz, energetic and positive, slotted straight into a team that was chasing everything.
Gakpo is different. He looks a different type of player, for starters. He is less about speed and dynamism, more about touch and movement. He looks more of a Firmino replacement than a Salah, a Mane or a Diaz, even if he himself believes his best position currently is out wide.
"At the moment for me, I like to play on the left wing because I played there for four years so that is what I am used to,” he told Walk On, Liverpool’s official e-magazine. “But maybe I will develop better in another position and then play there.
"I played in the middle in the FA Cup at Wolves and against Chelsea. I like it. It's more in the centre of the goal. I'm not that used to it so I have to develop in that position.
“I don't know if I will end up there, but [former Netherlands manager] Louis van Gaal told me I will end up in the middle so maybe I will."
Gakpo’s versatility, GOAL understands, was one of the reasons Liverpool targeted him in the first place, but looking at both his style of play and the Reds’ current attacking options, it feels as if a central role will suit him best going forward.
He has always scored goals and created chances, but at PSV he made huge strides in terms of his awareness and off-the-ball work, even employing a personal tactics coach to improve his positional play and understanding of the game.
At Liverpool the cavalry, belatedly, is coming. Klopp hopes to have both Jota and Firmino back in full training this week, while Diaz is expected back in action in March. If they can get all their forwards fit - yes, it’s a big if - then the Reds have an arsenal that looks as rich and as varied as any in the game.
In the short term, though, they’d love for Gakpo to find his shooting boots, and some of that creative, goalscoring form he showed at PSV. And where better to do it than at Anfield on Monday night, right?