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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Paul Gorst

Cody Gakpo transfer sums up Liverpool's painful transition

It's not been an ideal start for Cody Gakpo in his fledgling days at Liverpool.

Arriving from PSV Eindhoven at the start of the January transfer window, the Netherlands international joined a club out of form and without many of its key figures up top fit.

Knee surgery for Luis Diaz last month means the Colombian international is expected to be absent until March, while a serious calf problem for Diogo Jota, suffered in the closing stages of the 1-0 win over Manchester City on October 16, has also seen the Portugal international on the shelf in recent months.

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Throw in the added complication of a Roberto Firmino injury that has now seen him miss the last eight games, and it is clear that the intense demands placed on Gakpo have been immediate and unfair.

In a way, the injuries in the forward line were the catalyst for Gakpo's transfer to begin with. Sporting director Julian Ward worked flat out across three days between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day to ensure it was Liverpool who beat Manchester United to his signature.

Sources at the club spoke of the ongoing absences of Jota and Diaz being a key factor in Klopp greenlighting the £37m January move for Gakpo, while the severity of an injury that was initially slated to be minor for Firmino may also have been an important part of the thinking at the time.

So while the absentees have led to opportunity for Gakpo, they have also contributed towards a heightening of expectations on the Oranje international.

As a result, it's been difficult for Gakpo to show his qualities to the Liverpool faithful in the early days of his time on Merseyside. The Dutchman's debut came on the left of the front three in the 2-2 draw with Wolves before he was named down the middle for that chastening 3-0 loss at Brighton in the absence of yet another striker in Darwin Nunez.

Another run-out down the middle in Tuesday's 1-0 win at Wolves in that FA Cup replay was another inconclusive outing before he and his team-mates were effectively nullified by Chelsea in Saturday's goalless draw.

Given the nature of the general situation at Anfield right now, it is no surprise that Gakpo has not taken flight yet. Any new signing would struggle to lift the gloom that has started to engulf proceedings since the turn of the year, not least someone moving to a new country at the age of 23. Flitting between two positions is unlikely to have helped, either, even if Klopp demands versatility in virtually all of his players.

In an ideal world, arrivals into Klopp's squad are given time, space and information before they are expected to significantly contribute. Players like Fabinho and Andy Robertson are proof enough of that, but such is the lack of depth at the top end of the pitch now for a side struggling for confidence and form that Gakpo has been thrown into the deep end with little ceremony.

The manager has continued to lament the injuries to Diaz, Jota and Firmino, saying last week: "We had a super training camp [in Dubai], really good. But since then we lost key players who were involved in the pre-season [training camp] so it's like 'okay'.

"And they were in helpful positions too, but it is not to blame anyone because I am not even close to that but in fact, some players if they keep the ball when we win it, we have patterns and they work and we know how it will work but they are all gone because the offensive line is completely new. Mo Salah is the only one left there, if you want. That doesn't make life easier."

For all the ongoing clamour for new additions in midfield, Liverpool have as big a problem in the final third as they do in the middle part just now. The returns to fitness of Jota, Diaz and Firmino are the obvious solutions, but while that particular trio continue to convalesce, the Reds' major concern goes on.

Take away the nine plundered against Bournemouth back in August - a tally that accounts for over a quarter of their Premier League goals this term - and Liverpool have registered just 25 in 18 games.

The fact that Diaz, who hasn't played since early October, is tied with 'own goals' and Harvey Elliott as the Reds' fourth most prolific goalscorers with four each highlights the fact that Klopp hasn't had enough of a spread throughout his squad. It's a far cry from last season's exertions when Jota and Sadio Mane scored over 20, while Mohamed Salah bagged 31.

Perhaps this is the inevitable effects of a long-term restructuring of Liverpool's forward line in 2022 that started with the January capture of Diaz and continued with the signings of Nunez and Gakpo.

Mane's sale has undoubtedly impacted the numbers in front of goal too and when the Bayern Munich man's exit is factored in alongside the normal adjustment period for Diaz, Nunez and Gakpo that all players moving to a new environment experience, it should be no real surprise to see the downturn in front of the opposition goal.

Even Salah, by his otherworldly standards, has suffered. At times, the Egyptian has been forced to operate too wide in an effort to accommodate Nunez through the centre, while a stuttering system behind him in midfield has not helped in creating space for him to wreak havoc. His all-round displays have undoubtedly dipped since the return of domestic football last month despite a more than respectable return of 17 goals across all competitions.

With seemingly each passing week, it is becoming clear that this is a season of painful transition for Klopp's Liverpool as he continues to reshape the makeup of his team in an effort to build another great one.


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