As the sun went down on Boxing day, the red side of Merseyside and the football world with it was caught off guard by a swift move by Liverpool to secure one of the hottest young talents in European football at the moment. The Reds reached an agreement with PSV Eindhoven to sign Cody Gakpo in the January transfer window. The Dutch giants in their announcement said the player “will leave for England imminently where he will be subjected to the necessary formalities ahead of the completion of the transfer.”
PSV and @LFC have reached an agreement on the proposed transfer of Cody Gakpo.
The 23-year-old attacker will leave for England imminently where he will be subjected to the necessary formalities ahead of the completion of the transfer.
— PSV (@PSV) December 26, 2022
Julian Ward, Liverpool’s Sporting Director, went to work on Christmas eve and has completed yet another trademark Liverpool move in the market, with the speed and awe which was typical in some of their early signings, like in the case of Diaz, Jota and even Van Djik five years back. According to available reports the clubs haven’t announced the official transfer fee yet but it is expected to be around € 40 million to € 50 million (via The Athletic). According to PSV’s general manager Marcel Brands, this is going to be a record deal for the club. The move has caused considerable discontent in the red side of Manchester as the Red Devils were too in pursuit of the youngster, and reportedly Liverpool managed to secure his services with lesser financial investment.
Gakpo was close to signing with Leeds United last summer, but the deal failed to materialise in the final stages. The fact that their rivals in Manchester too were eyeing for the youngster before they went on to sign Anthony from Ajax, shows that the 23-year-old has been getting sufficient attention for some time now. But ever since the current season kicked off in the Eredivisie and especially after the World Cup, the attacker’s stocks have gone up starkly.
Cody Gakpo tops the Dutch first tier in both goals and assists this season and turned out to be the only player in Qatar to score in each of the group games. The young Dutchman is known to be hardworking and committed to self-improvement as his stats clearly show.
How good is Cody Gakpo really?
As mentioned earlier Gakpo has been under the radar of some of the big names in Europe for a while now, and for good reasons too. The pace at which his effectiveness on the pitch improved over the last three years is hard to overlook. His goals and assists stats speaks for itself. The youngster netted 9 goals so far in the league this season and set up another 12. He is the only player in the big leagues to top the tally for both goals and assists. Here is a look at how his goals and assists per game number went up through the last couple of years.
|Per 90 mins||2020/21 `||2021/22||2022/23|
Even after neglecting the penalty goals the boy still maintains a number of 0.56 this season, which is commendable. The player’s confidence in converting from the spot will also be an added bonus for the Reds as they have gone into the penalties for a number of cup games in the previous seasons. Speaking of spot kicks, Gakpo is technically gifted at dead balls as he steps up for most of the corners and indirect freekicks for PSV. His assist stats going up dramatically has also to do with the above-mentioned ability. He is also known for whipping in a good number of quality crosses into the box. There has been a massive improvement in the number of successful crosses played into the box compared to last year as his current number is 16 in just 14 games as opposed to a mere 6 from the entirety of the previous campaign. In fact he has more crosses to his name this season (134) than Trent Alexander-Arnold (106), which is still praiseworthy despite the fullback having a rusty start to the season.
It is also important to talk about the youngster’s directness and decisiveness in the final third. In the World Cup, he took three shots, all of which were on target and all of them resulted in goals. His added swiftness in decision-making in tight spaces has made him a menace to handle for the opposition backlines. The percentage of on-target shots have also gone up steadily over the past three seasons.
|Season||Percentage of on-target shots|
A good chunk of goals he has scored for PSV from outside the box is reminiscent of prime Coutinho’s ability to cut inside from the left wing and curl the ball into the far top corner. Football pundits have already lauded his directness to the game, to make runs and find space and unleash. He epitomises this simplicity and showcased its effectiveness in Qatar in all three goals he scored. The stunner from outside the box against Ecuador was also released from his left foot, indicating he doesn’t shy away from playing on his weak side.
Gakpo also has decent physical attributes in terms of strength and pace which puts him in a better position to handle the intensity of the premier league. He is good at making driving runs at defenders and into space. But he does not overcomplicate things owing to his directness and makes quick decisions which will suit the pace of the English game. He is second in terms of completed take-ons (26) in the Eredivisie this season.
Here is a list of his individual records and standings in the Dutch league this season:
|Category||Number||Rank in the league|
(via Sky Sports)
Is Cody Gakpo a good fit for Liverpool?
There is no argument about the talent of Cody Gakpo but does the Dutchman fit into the Scouse system is a different question altogether and an important one to ask. To start with, the major concern for the Reds as far as signings were concerned this season was to sign midfielders. The scene at the middle of the park is not looking good for a number of reasons. Fabinho, who has been one of the most consistent players for Liverpool, has taken a dip in form this season. Henderson and Thiago do chip in with their experience but age will eventually start to tell on their game. As for the youngsters like Harvey Elliot and Curtis Jones and the others from the academy like Bobby Clark, the time they take to find their game will take a toll on the club’s success at the moment. So, signing an attacker instead of a midfielder might unsettle at least some part of the fanbase and critics. So was signing Gakpo the right move at the wrong time? Not necessarily.
The Reds frontline is loaded with talent but a good portion of it is serving time in the med room at Kirkby. Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota are both out for a long term with no specified date of return. Darwin Nunez, who was supposed to light up the league, has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. His continued lack of composure in front of goal has been a cause of frustration despite the club returning to winning ways. Carvalho and Salah have been doing relatively decently but the Egyptian is nowhere near his usual standards. As for Firmino, who is the top scorer for the team this season, his contract is about to expire and the future looks uncertain. So after all, it looks like the Reds frontline too could use some help. Will the boy from Eindhoven be able to provide it is yet another question.
Gakpo shone in PSV in his prototypical attacking left-wing role. He loves to make that drive into the centre during counterattacks, to cut inside and whip one into the far corner every now and then and occasionally go down the line and feed his teammates some well-weighted balls. But he has shown he can adapt when required as he pulled off a brilliant display for the Dutch where Louis van Gaal played him either as a number 10 or a striker, that too on the right side. This ability of his to quickly settle into different positions comes from his individual tactical sessions. In an exclusive interview with the Sky, Gakpo’s individual tactical coach Loran Vrielink talks about the importance of focusing on body orientation in different parts of the pitch, which has undoubtedly helped the young star’s game. Under his guidance, Gakpo has made some adjustments to his game which has increased his efficiency on the pitch, like focusing on off-the-ball movement and reducing the number of long runs with the ball.
However, some other modifications Gakpo has made to his game lately might prove to be a hindrance for him in the Red shirt. The youngster systematically reduced the number of duels he commits himself into. This has enabled him to stay fit and also his success rates in tackles have gone up. In the 2020/21 season, his successful tackle tally was 9/20, which increased to 9/15 and to 10/13 in the following seasons. The data clearly shows a trend of the player selectively picking duels with higher chances of winning. This attention to detail is indeed an indicator that the player is a meticulous student of the game. But Liverpool’s style of play might cause a conflict of interest in terms of Gakpo’s attitude towards duels. Jurgen Klopp is known for his high-intensity pressing game which might require the Dutchman to press high up the field, track back and put his body on the line more than he used to in Netherlands. How he handles this conundrum and finds a balance will be a major factor in him settling into the Liverpool game.
That being said, Gakpo has proved in the past he can adapt to different styles of play with his smooth transition and retaining of form while in the national team. However, the premier league is going to be a totally different challenge which he will have to boot up to, battle with and conquer if he wishes to rise up the levels of the game. If or not he’ll be able to do it will also be crucial for Liverpool’s future and that of Jurgen Klopp.