How Gakpo alters Liverpool’s plan of attack

    The 23-year-old Holland forward passed a medical as the formalities of his move were undertaken. He will wear the No.18 shirt once a work permit is granted.Liverpool had planned to target Gakpo in the summer but brought forward their interest to see off competition from Manchester United.Gakpo revealed that his Holland and now new Liverpool team-mate, Virgil van Dijk, persuaded him to move to Anfield. “We spoke a lot over the phone [in] the last days,” he said. “What he told me was that this is the right move for me to make, for me to develop and to become a better player – that the club is a really massive club but also like a real family.“That’s also very important for me because I’m a family guy.”So, what can the Liverpool fans expect to see from their new addition?What does he do?Gakpo is the latest winger from the PSV production line – a club whose distinguished alumni include Steven Bergwijn, Memphis Depay, Dries Mertens and Arjen Robben. Like the latter, he is a winger playing on the opposite side to his dominant foot, whose instinct is to dart inside and shoot.In 14 league matches this season Gakpo has nine goals and 12 assists. He is a considerable and eye-catching goal threat but creative too; among footballers in the top five European leagues and the Dutch Eredivisie, no player has recorded more assists this season. According to data from Opta, Gakpo also has the most chance-creating carries in the division (29).The Dutchman strikes the ball cleanly, spectacularly blasting powerful shots at goal from long range. He is quick off the mark, able to accelerate and decelerate in an instant, and throws defenders off balance with his incisive, clever runs.His 6ft 3in frame lends him a physicality uncommon among wingers; he can hold off opponents, contest the ball in the air and bully full backs, whom he challenges on both the inside and outside with his tight control.Despite his height, Gakpo is far from ungainly – rather he is fleet of foot and has excellent close control. His speed on the ball is paired with a sharpness of thought: he reads moments and knows when to burst into space, or when to divert attention elsewhere before slipping in behind defences.That he is able to draw in defenders helps to create opportunities for those around him, while Gakpo’s sharp combination play with his teammates – coming off the left wing to attack the penalty area – is another feature of his game. When he does get into the box, he has a tendency to stand up crosses – something that his new team-mates, particularly Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota, will appreciate.A tactically flexible player, much like Nunez, Jota, Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah, Gakpo can play all across the front line. For Holland at the World Cup, he was deployed as a No 10, using his creative abilities in the middle of the field, either supporting a front two or as part of that pairing.How will he fit in at Liverpool?Gakpo joins a squad full of attacking riches: Salah, last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner, starts almost every match on the right wing; Nunez, a £64 million recruit from Benfica, is still developing but has a knack for scoring; and while Diaz and Jota are injured until March and late January respectively, they were key to Liverpool’s tilt at the Quadruple last season. Then there is Roberto Firmino, 31, who started the season brightly but whose contract is due to expire at the end of the season.In addition to those are Fabio Carvalho, Harvey Elliott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ben Doak, all of whom can play on the wing. Gakpo is a surprising addition; however, Liverpool are evolving tactically and the Dutch forward offers something different. The Gakpo signing signals a move towards playing with a more conventional fixed striker, and the wingers working around that.Pace, technical skills and intelligence are prerequisites for playing for Liverpool, but there is a directness and immediacy to Gakpo’s play. By virtue of his aggression on the ball, Gakpo should be able to make more space for his team-mates and alleviate the goalscoring and creative burden on Salah. The Egypt forward had the most assists in the league last season (13), while Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) came next.With a creative player on the left, Liverpool may expand their attacking game, while Gakpo’s instinctive movements inside may also help the left back Andrew Robertson to make more contributions in the final third.He is likely to play in front of Thiago Alcantara. Gakpo is among the top three per cent of forwards for receiving progressive passes across Europe, and will be the beneficiary of the Spain midfielder’s creative, penetrating balls.Unlike his predecessor on the left wing, Sadio Mane, Gakpo tends to take his shots further away from goal. This season he has attempted only three inside the six-yard area. That difference is emblematic of Liverpool’s changing system; without a false nine such as Firmino – who hovers around the edge of the penalty area, links play and facilitates his team-mates on the wing to run inside and attack the box as inside forwards – the wingers are expected to play more conventionally, working off a classic No.9.What Gakpo represents, then, is a further step away from the system that brought Liverpool so much initial success under Klopp, when Mane, Firmino and Salah combined to create a fearsome triumvirate.Most of all, in beating Manchester United to the signing of Gakpo, Liverpool are building the strength in depth needed to sustain a push for the Champions League places this season.- The Times

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