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Jurgen Klopp’s big Cody Gakpo mistake could be a gift for Arne Slot

Jurgen Klopp‘s final season at Liverpool was a mixed one for Cody Gakpo, but those final shoots of 2023/24 hinted at a more consistent role to play under Arne Slot.

Since arriving at Anfield in January 2023, no player has made more appearances for Liverpool’s first team than Gakpo.

It speaks to the Dutchman’s immediate value as one of Klopp’s final signings, with the deal with PSV Eindhoven pushed through mid-season as it would have become “unaffordable” as he progressed further.

But it is fair to argue that, after his first full season, Gakpo is yet to show his best form – nor has he been given the opportunity to do so.

Cody Gakpo, 2023/24

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo celebrates after scoring the third goal during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 32 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 21
Unused sub: 1
Goals: 16
Assists: 6
Overall Season Rating: 6.57

 

Klopp’s big mistake

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 10, 2024: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo applauds the supporters after the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“Cody had a bit of a struggle in between the season, it was more my fault,” Klopp admitted in February, after Gakpo scored his 10th goal of the campaign in the 4-1 win at Brentford.

The manager explained: “We spoke about can Cody play a midfield position for us, yes he can in different moments. Is it his position? I would say no.

“The offensive part of the role he can definitely play, but with the defensive things which he was not used to, that cost him a bit of confidence in moments, you could see that.

“The boy came here and was flying from day one pretty much and then all of a sudden you saw, OK that’s now not exactly the same. These kinds of things happen.”

Gakpo had arrived from PSV Eindhoven as a prolific left winger, but was first moulded into the Roberto Firmino role and then, in the season just gone, employed as a utility player.

A number of shifts as a No. 8 were a mistake, Klopp has accepted, and it became clear that rarely playing consecutive games in the same position affected his confidence.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 21, 2024: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo during the FA Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool FC at Dean Court. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That culminated in a disastrous cameo in the FA Cup defeat to Man United, which included the 25-year-old wasting the pass to foil a five-on-two counter.

“Gakpo plays like the game is in slow motion,” was Jamie Carragher’s immediate verdict.

Despite his struggles, though, Gakpo was still contributing regularly in front of goal, scoring a brace against LASK in the Europa League and netting in four successive fixtures in the Carabao Cup.

The quality was always there, but it was stifled through little fault of the player’s own.

 

Unleashed on the left

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 5, 2024: Cody Gakpo of Liverpool scores a goal and celebrates 3-0 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Anfield. (Photo by Ryan Brown/Propaganda)

There was a clear turning point for Gakpo in the final month of the season, with Klopp tweaking his role after a heart-to-heart with his No. 18 at the AXA Training Centre.

“Cody, he knows that he was, for a while, not in his best moment,” the manager revealed.

“We had a conversation there, obviously not for public what we spoke about there, but it helped him a lot. We could sort it a little bit.”

While Gakpo remained, nominally, Liverpool’s centre-forward, he would instead switch positions with Luis Diaz, the Colombian drifted more into the central areas while the Dutchman operated out wide.

Having played 118 of his 159 games, scored 47 of his 55 and laid on 42 of his 50 assists for PSV as a left winger, it was no surprise that it brought an upturn in form.

There was a goal and assist in the 4-2 victory over Tottenham and another strike in the 3-3 draw at Aston Villa, while he was dangerous throughout the final-day 2-0 win over Wolves.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, May 13, 2024: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“When you’re on the way to prove something you actually don’t have to, you lose the rest of your game a little bit,” Klopp told Gakpo during their conversation.

The sense is that Gakpo, caught between various roles, had lost belief in the areas of the game that made him so feared at PSV.

“With stopping that, you can be yourself immediately again,” Klopp added.

Quite why it took until his final games in charge for Klopp to embrace the Gakpo who dominated in Eindhoven is unclear, but it could be considered the perfect gift for his successor.

 

Ready to Slot into the side?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 27, 2024: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo celebrates after scoring hi side's second goal during the FA Premier League match between West Ham United FC and Liverpool FC at the London Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With a change of manager will come a change in fortunes for certain players, and that should be a positive for one of the arriving head coach’s countrymen.

Slot will be acutely aware of Gakpo’s talents, having seen him score three and assist three in three meetings with the coach’s Feyenoord side while he was at PSV.

Tellingly, all three of those games saw him start on the left, which should inform Slot of his best position as he prepares for life at Liverpool.

There is, of course, a lingering doubt over Slot’s preference for pacy wingers, with Gakpo hardly of that mould, but the reality is that the 45-year-old is unlikely to simply shoehorn his system from Feyenoord onto his new squad.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 21, 2024: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo celebrates his side's third goal during the FA Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage. Liverpool won 3-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Gakpo’s flexibility will remain a key asset, but there were strong signs in the clashes with Tottenham, Villa and Wolves that he can dominate from the left.

Where that leaves the likes of Diaz and Darwin Nunez remains to be seen, but there is cause to believe that Slot’s fellow Dutchman is set to figure prominently.

And after a campaign that saw him score 16 and assist six in 53 games despite those mid-season struggles, there is a strong platform for Gakpo to build on in 2024/25.


Best moment: The header against Spurs – something we haven’t seen enough of!

Worst moment: That five-on-two counter against Man United.

Role next season: A regular starter from the left under Slot.