Cody Gakpo Makes Total Sense For Liverpool's Total Football
Article by Paul Tomkins, with scouting video and detailed report by Daniel Rhodes
The order is a little out of whack, but Cody Gakpo is essentially the new Sadio Mané and Darwin Núñez is the replacement for Roberto Firmino. (And to me, Luis Díaz can become an attacking midfielder when fit again, as well as part of the front three pool.)
Both are 23, which is roughly the age that Mané and Firmino were when they joined the Reds in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
The last time Liverpool signed a player who was the Dutch Footballer of the Year with PSV it went quite well, with Gini Wijnaldum.
Gakpo scores tons of goals from the left flank but can play central, and is a direct and skilful dribbler; Núñez creates havoc whilst people fixate stupidly on if he scores enough goals, when he runs opposition defences ragged and creates space for others (and still has excellent stats per 90, despite not taking penalties, not that Liverpool get penalties).
Plus, my dream of Liverpool fielding an entire team of talented 6'4" man-mountains is progressing well.
Of course, joking aside, there's always room for the elite tricky little 'uns (hence why I’ve touted Ben Doak as a future superstar since the start of the year, and why I love Thiago Alcântara), but with such good deliverers of a ball and so many set-piece opportunities, another 6'4" player makes sense to me.
But this season, in part due to injuries, Liverpool became a shorter, older side than the league average (see below); and at times slower too.
So taller, younger, faster players fit the bill. (Liverpool are now the shortest team of the Big Six plus Newcastle, and the three tallest sides are Spurs, Newcastle and Arsenal. Obviously Liverpool have had so many injuries this season that Jürgen Klopp had to pick older players, but height is always a bonus if, like Virgil van Dijk, you can do all the other things too.)
One basic thing I like to track regarding goalscoring is how, barring outliers, prolific youth attackers tend to start with maybe a goal every ten games as they adjust to first-team football (maybe as it also involves coming on as a sub), then in a season or two it's improved to scoring one in five, and before long they're getting closer to the rate of their youth.
Cody Gakpo didn't score for the Netherlands' U18s or U19s across six games, but for the U20s he bagged four in five, then seven in 13 for the U21s. He scored once in his first five games for the Dutch senior side, but now has five since June. For Jong PSV he went from a goal every second game to a goal every game in the 2nd tier, before promotion to the senior side in the top tier.
Then, for PSV:
2 in 19
8 in 39
11 in 29
21 in 47...
... followed by 13 in 24 (and nine in just 14 in the league), which pro rata is getting up towards a 30-goal season.
There's a clear progression, from teenage years to the age of 23 (and to me, 22/23 is the age where I tend to notice the biggest uptick in output – going back to Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and many others; as well as when Mo Salah became prolific in Italy, before becoming ultra-prolific at Liverpool aged 25. Darwin Núñez became prolific in Portugal at 22, and has an astonishing 1.06 for non-penalty expected goals plus assists per 90 minutes, which leads the league – and nine non-penalty goals in the first third of his first season in England is excellent – if you focus on what he does, rather than the distortion of lowlife’s lowlights videos. He has five league goals in the equivalent of just 7.7 matches, plus four in other competitions – again, all open-play – and the way he creates goals for others with his running is a godsend).
Gakpo is not just some World Cup sensation, out of nowhere, but a properly developing elite talent, going up a level each and every season. He’ll have been tracked for ages, as he’s been one to watch for five years now.
And those goals are mostly from the left-wing, too. And while the Dutch league isn't the strongest, PSV are not the totally dominant side in the way that Ajax are; so it's not tap-ins in a team that runs riot every week.
Gakpo elevated his status at the World Cup – and will have gained great confidence from it – but is not some random left-field success, like El Hadji Diouf, who had done merely okay in France before the 2002 World Cup (he never did score many goals), and had a shitty attitude. Gakpo has been hot property since before the World Cup, unlike some others who simply shot to prominence there.
It may also seem odd to buy an attacker when midfield seemed the greatest need, but two long-term injuries (Luis Díaz, Diogo Jota) means it makes sense on the short-term, and in the summer the attacking talents of Roberto Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be free to leave. (EDIT: and I forgot that Divock Origi and Taki Minamino left in the summer, and Gakpo is better than both of those.)
Plus, currently there are more fit midfielders than before the World Cup, and clearly Liverpool are pushing the boat out for Jude Bellingham in the summer, which will hopefully succeed – albeit everyone wants him and he'll cost a fortune. Naby Keïta is fit – for now – and Oxlade-Chamberlain is fit – for now, and played well yesterday – and so they can make up the numbers, along with the fast-emerging Stefan Bajcetic. Hopefully Fabinho will be back to his old self, too, with promising signs at Villa Park, and Jordan Henderson still seems full of running. Thiago is also free from injury, touch wood. The fatigue of last season is out of the legs of a lot of these players after the break.
In addition, the fees for the midfielders the Reds have been linked with seemed to double and even treble during the World Cup, but Gakpo seems great value at under £40m. In this day and age, that’s peanuts for an elite talent.
As I'll go on to explain below in the second half of this piece, this is a player whose physical attributes, allied to his skill, means he can do everything; and he’ll offer a new dimension to the way the Reds play. (Plus, Daniel has supplied a detailed scouting report as a PDF for those paying subscribers who want to delve into Gakpo on a deeper level.)
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