In Focus: Klopp needs time to get Gak back on track
Liverpool's January signing Cody Gakpo has struggled to live up to his lofty reputation at Anfield so far.
The Dutchman scored 13 goals and claimed 17 assists in 24 PSV Eindhoven appearances during the first half of the season, as well as netting three times for the Netherlands at the World Cup, to earn his move to Jurgen Klopp's side.
But he is yet to open his account for the Reds in two Premier League starts and two cup outings.
Ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup fourth-round clash at Brighton, we turn the spotlight on the 23-year-old’s start to life on Merseyside.
A lot has changed for Gakpo in a short space of time.
The Eindhoven native has set up in a new city for the first time, while the Premier League is notoriously a difficult league to adapt to — particularly when you have spent your entire career in the Dutch leagues.
Ronald Koeman, who was recently confirmed as Gakpo’s new international boss with the Netherlands, insists a period of adjustment was always going to be in store for the World Cup star.
The Oranje coach, 59, said: "I think it's important that he's playing and that's really important for a young kid like Gakpo.
"It's difficult because Liverpool is not in the last few months at that [high] level. That's always difficult for a new signing, to come in during the season.
"You have to give him that time to develop and to adapt to the Premier League because it's a different level.
"The intensity is much higher than he used to play in Holland but he's young and he will learn and he will be better. But he has a great future."
Gakpo is not joining a team that is firing on all cylinders.
Klopp’s men have been well below par this season and find themselves languishing in ninth in the Premier League table.
Gakpo watched from the stands as his new side suffered a 3-1 loss at Brentford days after his move, while his first league start was a disastrous 3-0 defeat at Brighton.
Liverpool are scoring less, creating fewer chances and finding the target less often compared to last season, so it is no wonder it has not been a seamless transition for their No18.
New signings making an instant impact has been something of a trait of Klopp’s outfit in recent years.
But with Gakpo being the third significant attacking reinforcement in the last 12 months after Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez, a little more patience might be required with their new-look frontline.
Gakpo has largely played as a centre forward who drifts wide — a position he starred in at the World Cup but different to the left-sided role he enjoyed for the most part at PSV.
Even when Nunez was brought on in their 0-0 draw against Chelsea, the Uruguayan was deployed in a wide left position with Gakpo remaining central — suggesting that is where Klopp sees the 6ft 2in forward fitting in long-term.
When the Dutchman joined, Klopp said of his best role: "He can play all four positions up front whatever you play.
"But the position he probably would say himself he prefers to play is the left wing in a 4-3-3. For us it's clear, he can play the other positions. We know that and that's why he was so interesting for us."
In normal circumstances, Gakpo may have been eased in from the bench in order for Klopp to discover his most effective role in Liverpool’s attacking set-up.
But that he has been thrown straight into the German's starting XI on the first four available opportunities is perhaps a sign of the lack of alternatives the Reds boss is currently working with.
Work in progress
There have certainly been signs of Gakpo’s quality shining through in his 334 minutes of action so far.
In those four games, no Liverpool player has taken more shots than the ex-Eredivisie ace (12), with only Mohamed Salah and Thiago Alcantara taking players on more often than his five.
The four aerial duels he has won is a stat bettered only by defender Ibrahima Konate (seven), backing up his credentials to be a future frontman.
But for such a prolific player at his previous club, no goals, assists or chances created in four games is undoubtedly a disappointment.
Gakpo will hope to get off the mark sooner rather than later to prevent his stuttering start becoming a bigger cause for concern.