Golden Gakpo Steps Up as Liverpool's Firmino Heir
Blimey, Jurgen Klopp must be feeling like a kid in a sweet shop with his forwards.
Even with Bobby Firmino on the treatment table, Liverpool’s gaffer has Mo Salah, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, and Cody Gakpo all scrapping for three spots in the attack.
“The ticket into this team must be and will be counter-pressing,” Klopp said, when quizzed by the press about the competition for places.
Gakpo, the lad’s status right now is like he’s won one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.
In the four months since his arrival from PSV Eindhoven for an initial fee of £37 million ($44m), the 23-year-old Dutch international has grown massively in stature.
When he didn’t score in his first six appearances for the club, some were questioning the wisdom of the January transfer window deal, after sporting director Julian Ward spent Christmas Day out-maneuvering rivals like Manchester United and Chelsea for his signature.
Why did Liverpool buy another forward when they were desperate for midfield reinforcements, the doubters scoffed? Did they really need him?
Well, no one is moaning about Gakpo now.
He’s gone from being seen as an extra purchase to an essential part of a rejuvenated team that’s finally found some momentum in their quest for Champions League qualification with three consecutive Premier League wins.
Wednesday’s hard-fought victory away to West Ham was Gakpo’s 20th outing for the club, and he marked it with his sixth league goal – a sweetly struck 20-yarder into the bottom corner to level up after Lucas Paqueta’s opener.
That record alone is not extraordinary. Klopp’s other signings Salah (15 goals), Nunez, Jota (both nine), and Sadio Mane (eight) all found the net more often in their first few games. However, there’s something mightily impressive about how quickly Gakpo, who boasts a top-flight goal every 178 minutes, has adjusted to his new surroundings and become vital to Klopp’s plans, especially considering the mess he inherited.
Having shone as a left-sided attacker for PSV with 13 goals and 17 assists in 24 games in the first half of the season, he’s taken up the challenge of proving he can fill Firmino’s boots in the No. 9 role.
Klopp has called him “a joy to work with… a super-smart kid”, and his selfless team ethic fits perfectly with what his boss demands. It’s no surprise Gakpo has started 18 matches and come off the bench in two since he arrived.
His performance last night showed why he’s regularly picked ahead of last summer’s signing Nunez to lead the line.
He’s quick, he’s strong, he holds the ball up and he links play smartly. He’s also skilled at unsettling the opposition with his work rate when not in possession. He’s always on the move. He’s the ideal Firmino replacement.
“I’m enjoying it,” Gakpo told the media following the win at West Ham.
Gakpo was at the heart of everything great about Liverpool in the game, providing a focal point and then feeding Jota and Salah on either side of him.
“Cody has been brilliant since he came in the door,” raved captain Jordan Henderson.
Gakpo played a pivotal role once again. He was given the ticket to lead the line, and he deserves to keep it.