Football News

Cody Gakpo: Is Liverpool’s “slow-motion” forward a victim of his own versatility?

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:00, 19 March 2024

Jamie Carragher described Cody Gakpo as playing in “slow motion” following Liverpool’s exit from the FA Cup against Manchester United. But has the Dutch forward’s versatility slowed the process of finding a true role in the Reds’ attack?

Jurgen Klopp’s men were on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller as Erik ten Hag’s side needed thirty additional minutes to run out 4-3 winners.

In a back-and-forth contest, the lead was exchanged four times, with the Reds heading towards a 2-1 success before Antony equalised in the 87th minute.

The much-maligned United forward came on six minutes before Gakpo, who replaced goalscorer Mohamed Salah, leading to a tactical change up front.

Having started the game as Liverpool’s number nine, Darwin Nunez was moved out wide to accommodate the Dutchman, much to Carragher’s chagrin.

“Gakpo plays like the game is in slow motion,” the former Reds captain wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

During his 43 minutes on the Old Trafford pitch (including extra time), Gakpo registered one blocked shot and was dispossessed twice.

“I didn’t think Cody Gakpo did too much when he came on, but at the same time, you’ve got to get over this,” Ian Wright added.

Not a first name on Klopp’s teamsheet when all his attacking options are present, Gakpo has made 42 appearances in all competitions this season, netting 13 goals while creating five more.

Cody Gakpo’s minutes played by position 2023/24 season

Capable of playing across the forward line, Gakpo has been featured in four different roles, most commonly centre-forward. However, it’s been documented before the Eindhoven native is perhaps more comfortable cutting inside from the left flank, where he excelled for his boyhood club, PSV.

That said, legendary Dutch manager Guus Hiddink advised him to move centrally rather than playing on the left flank.

“[Guus] Hiddink was the first [to mention the change],” he recounted in a conversation with Algemeen Dagblad. “He spent a while at PSV as a sounding board, saw me busy and said: ‘You have to become a striker or a false striker, Cody’. I didn’t want to believe that then.”

“We play with two wingers who stay high and a striker who can also lower himself to participate in midfield,” he added. “Klopp saw me doing that, he said after my arrival in January. And now I do too. With us you have Mo Salah on the right flank, he has shown it at the top level for many years.

“I would rather see him as the ‘leader’ in our attack. I don’t think status is that important anyway. I want to help the team I play in. And I now enjoy doing that from this position.”

So far this season, Gakpo has alternated with Nunez and Diogo Jota as centre-forward options. Of those options, Núñez has been the most lethal (eight goals), albeit playing there more regularly (24 matches). Jota (seven games) and Gakpo (11 games) contributed four goals.

Each understandably brings something different. Even Nunez, arguably the more orthodox centre-forward, seems most comfortable out wide. Gakpo, as touched upon, is utilised as a false nine, often dropping into the space between Liverpool’s midfield and forward lines.

Jota is similar as he can operate in the half-space between full-back and centre-back and uses his acceleration of the mark to break in behind, though, unlike Gakpo, he prefers to receive the ball facing the goal.

Gakpo, furthermore, is a blend of both in the sense that he’s technically brilliant, progressive, and a competent progressor of the ball, but he’s also very direct in his thought process. The 6-foot-4 forward can receive the ball to feet with his back to goal and is happy to link with the midfield, but he also can turn and attack space.

“Since Cody’s here, he arrived in his position and now starting the season he played in midfield,” Klopp said earlier this season.

“If we had everybody available it was never the plan for us to put Cody there, we just knew he can play there. It was for him again something new after the false nine last year, and all of a sudden he was in new positions.

“He is a super-smart player, so he can adapt to that, but we want him to adapt and then you have to perform immediately at the top level. That was in the midfield position a bit difficult, but with a bit more time he can play there perfectly, no doubt about that.

“Then the injury, which was really unlucky in this horrible game, and now he is back and he is just a versatile striker, he can play everywhere for us. He is a top, top, top player and a really good character as well so it is really helpful.

“The boys up front, they all like each other. There’s not this battle between ‘how will I start’, they all like each other. They know they can all play together and that’s really important, and they enjoy it a lot, they all want to start but if you don’t start they know they will come on, and Cody’s a very important part of that.

“The good thing is we have really smart players, and it means they understand they cannot play all games. That’s how a smart footballer should think and our boys do that.”