Cody Gakpo’s first six games as a Liverpool player yielded one victory. He joined a club low on confidence and bereft of form, making the transition from life in the Eredivisie to the Premier League a tougher one than he and the club would have desired.
After a six-week trip to the World Cup quarter-finals, Gakpo’s return to domestic football was at a new club in a new country, with the small matter of £35m changing hands. If it has been a confusing season for some due to the World Cup in Qatar breaking up the calendar, Gakpo has had more than most to adapt to but is looking settled as Liverpool prepare to face Tottenham on Sunday.
Scoring in a Merseyside derby win and the 7-0 drubbing of Manchester United at Anfield is a good way to ingratiate yourself with the Liverpool fans and Gakpo is starting to show the regular influence he can have on the team. The Netherlands international can play anywhere across the forward line and Jürgen Klopp is grooming him to be the favoured false 9 when Roberto Firmino departs in the summer.
As an individual Gakpo’s performances were consistent, without being outstanding in the early weeks, although it is hard to shine in a losing team. As a new player integrating into a squad, it is preferable to be helped by those around you to slip seamlessly into the team but that was not an option when losing 3-0 to Brighton and Wolves in the Premier League.
Thankfully for Gakpo and Liverpool, things have settled, they are unbeaten in five and have won the past three matches, which the Dutchman has started alongside Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota, bringing consistency to the forward line. Klopp also has depth in the options off the bench with Firmino, Darwin Núñez and the returning Luis Díaz ready to bring variety when needed.
Gakpo showed a litany of attributes that make him perfect for the Premier League while at PSV: he is quick, strong, tall and has great technical ability. Gakpo has operated down the middle, on either flank and often drops deep to become a No 10.
There are concerns he drifts out of games but with maturity he will gain focus. It will take time for him to understand each individual role in the system but the signs are good heading into August when he should be fully settled and the club on an upward trajectory once more after smart recruitment. Liverpool operate in a market where they have to accept signing younger players with potential, although patience is a rare trait in football.
Klopp admits the season has been underwhelming, their seventh position before the weekend fixtures a testament to a toiling campaign. There are positives, however: Liverpool have only lost once at home in the league, Curtis Jones looks like a potential regular in midfield and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s new role is starting to pay dividends.
“It’s a work in progress,” Virgil van Dijk says of Alexander-Arnold moving into midfield from full-back. “In possession, it’s getting there and counter-attacks on the break sometimes, you have to organise a little bit better. But it’s a work in progress and that’s obviously normal. To do that at this stage of the season and still get results is a good sign. And I think the manager has already said the pre-season will be very important in order to make it as good as possible for next season.”
Liverpool have to assess the campaign, acknowledge what went wrong and correct it. There is disappointment that Jude Bellingham will not be joining from Borussia Dortmund because the England international’s overall cost would leave the coffers short for other acquisitions.
Gakpo arrived at Anfield despite competition, with Klopp saying they signed him before he became “unaffordable”. There will likely be a similar mantra to the shortlist this summer but Gakpo is a good example of who Liverpool will be targeting in terms of his age and value.
The visit of Spurs is an opportunity to add a fourth straight victory as the momentum grows around Anfield, something Klopp and the supporters will be desperate to harness. Spurs created an impressive comeback against Manchester United in midweek but showed signs of their defensive fragility in the draw, something a confident Liverpool front three will be eager to take advantage of.
Liverpool forwards have scored 19 of their past 20 goals, spreading them around between five of them. They are clicking after needing time to work together. Klopp has been without Jota for a sustained period through injury, while Díaz is only three games into his return following six months on the sidelines but returned at a crucial point.
Without a major tournament in the summer, the final six matches will dictate the mood of the players when they come back. This will likely be a season forgotten in Liverpool’s history but it could provide a footnote for being the start of something better.