Despite a dismal opening game to 2023, there is still some hope for Liverpool. 23-year-old Dutch attacker Cody Gakpo has signed for the Reds from under the noses of arch-rivals Manchester United, bolstering what is looking like an increasingly depleted front line for Jurgen Klopp.
While Gakpo doesn’t solve all of Liverpool’s problems he certainly helps paper over cracks in the short run. A return of nine goals and 12 assists in 14 Eredivisie games before the World cup is phenomenal, as well as three goals in Qatar show just how dangerous the latest addition to Liverpool’s front line is.
Klopp will be hoping he has a similar impact to Luis Diaz last season, and there will certainly be some players better placed to benefit from this, but who will that be? And who will be less pleased to see Liverpool’s new number 18 take to the field?
Mohamed Salah – Winner
Once again, Liverpool’s Egyptian King has been the Reds’ main source of goals in all competitions this season. Salah had taken on a slightly different role at the start of the campaign, playing far wider than we had ever seen him in a Liverpool shirt, far away from all the action in and around the penalty box.
While he still managed to bag a few goals early in the season, a move to a more central role benefitted him massively and now it looks like Klopp has reverted to a more traditional look to his front three, with Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain operating as inside forwards since the return from the World Cup.
The arrival of Gakpo can only help Salah. With Luis Diaz out till March at least, Diogo Jota side-lined till February, and Darwin Nunez misfiring, someone else in the side willing to drive at defenders and take a shot on is always going to be positive. Gakpo’s directness and willingness to create in the box will open opportunities for Salah, much like when Sadio Mane played off the left for Liverpool.
Darwin Nunez – Winner
Whilst Nunez has enjoyed a turbulent start to life at Anfield, there is no doubt of his potential. Aptly nicknamed ‘Captain Chaos’ by Jamie Carragher, the Uruguayan hasn’t been short of chances in the Premier League. However, a constantly changing forward line alongside a team very short of confidence has meant we are yet to see Nunez’s full potential.
It is evident that Salah and Nunez have developed a great understanding, with each finding the other with intricate passes in the last few games. Nunez was developing that understanding with Diaz before his unfortunate injury, and this is where Gakpo comes in.
The Dutchman is an elite creator, registering 12 assists in the Eredivisie in the first half of the season. With Nunez playing more as a traditional number nine than Roberto Firmino ever has, the addition of a winger willing to find his teammates will help unlock an area of Nunez’s game that we haven’t seen yet. A constant run of games together will allow a relationship to form, and it should be an extremely positive one given the qualities each possesses.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Winner
The right-back has had a below-par season by his standards in every sense. He has been picked apart defensively and has provided just one league assist all season. But the arrival of Gakpo has the potential to change all that.
The player that has benefitted the most from Trent’s wand of a right foot? Sadio Mane. The second player to benefit the most? Diogo Jota. Both players have enjoyed extended spells on Liverpool’s left-hand side since Trent broke into the side.
His raking cross-field balls as well as pinpoint crosses are going to play right into Gakpo’s hands. The Dutchman stands at 6 foot 2 inches tall and possesses great ability in the air, you only need to look at the World Cup to know that. His ability to drift in at the back post is exactly what Trent needs and it helps is he extremely clinical as well. An extended run in the team will allow this relationship to develop and we could be looking at one of the deadliest combinations in world football for many years to come.
Roberto Firmino – Loser
An ever-present in a Liverpool side since Klopp’s arrival, it is hard to imagine they would have had the same success without the Brazilian. Alas, it looks like his time on Merseyside may be coming to an end.
Although he is enjoying a particularly profitable season in front of goal by his standards, the departure of Mane and the arrival of Nunez in the summer signaled the start of a new era for Liverpool. Gone are the days when Firmino’s position as a false nine bamboozled opposition defences and back is the era of the traditional nine.
Gakpo’s arrival only reinforces this. Whilst there is no doubt of his potential to score goals, Gakpo’s ability to provide from wide areas is his biggest strength. While Liverpool still have one of the most potent attacking full-back duos the league has seen, goals need to be provided from elsewhere, and the ins and outs of the last 12 months seem to suggest that is the long-term vision. It renders Firmino’s role in the team almost useless and with his contract expiring in the summer, it seems a new one isn’t on the way.
Fabio Carvalho – Loser
The youngster arrived in the summer with a lot of hype, and while early performances showed why the Reds were so desperate to bring him in last January, he has dwindled since.
He was deployed as a central midfielder early on in his Liverpool career but has been shifted out to the left in recent times, where he has looked slightly underwhelming. When Liverpool’s midfield is fully fit, you would probably place Carvalho as the seventh choice in the position. He slides even further down the pecking order when you consider Liverpool are almost certainly going to sign a midfielder in the next six months.
When Diaz and Jota are fit, Carvalho probably sits as the fourth or fifth-choice left winger after the signing of Gakpo. He could be used perhaps coming off the right, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of Gakpo or Diaz play the understudy to Salah, and eventually take that role for their own. Unfortunately for Carvalho, the Gakpo signing is going to cause a major problem to his Reds career in the short term.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Loser
While the game against Brentford was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first time starting three consecutive games since February 2020, that was more out of necessity than based on his form. Liverpool’s lack of bodies in this area of the pitch has forced Klopp’s hand, and while you could argue the signing of Gakpo was also due to this, it almost certainly spells the end of Ox’s career for the Reds.
In his early career at Arsenal, Ox was undisputedly a winger with tremendous pace that could beat a man easily, however, he has matured into a more central player and displayed that in his first season at the club. However, through no fault of his own injury has hampered his time on Merseyside and he now doesn’t find himself anywhere near the first choice in any position.
Gakpo’s arrival probably demotes him to the fourth choice in the wide left position, and it could be argued he is in a similar position to Carvalho in his status as a midfielder. Many would argue that Liverpool would be better placed giving Naby Keita a contract ahead of him given the potential the Guinean has, and the Reds’ pursuit of a midfielder most likely means Chamberlain’s time at the club is up.
Follow Ewan Gennery here