Premier League • England

Klopp savaged over mishandling of recent Liverpool signing – ‘that’s the biggest issue he has’

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

One observer reckons Jurgen Klopp is at fault for Cody Gakpo’s slow start to life at Liverpool, though teammate Darwin Nunez suggested a different reason is in play.

Gakpo was an initial £37m arrival from PSV Eindhoven in January. The 23-year-old arrived on the back of a truly outstanding six months in the Netherlands in which he notched 30 goal contributions in just 24 appearances.

Gakpo produced his best display in a Reds shirt to date in the Merseyside derby on Monday night.

The Dutchman opened his account for Liverpool when tapping home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s inch-perfect cross.

He also showed glimpses of the explosiveness he’ll need to truly excel in the Premier League when turning on the ball and racing away from an Everton marker during a lightning-quick counterattack.

The Everton display was the most encouraging yet, though it has been a slow start for Gakpo overall.

He’s generally been tasked with leading the line by Jurgen Klopp. While he is willing to spearhead the attack, it is a somewhat unfamiliar role for Gakpo.

Klopp at fault for Gakpo struggles?

The bulk of his appearances at PSV came on the left wing. He was deployed centrally by Louis van Gaal at the World Cup, though often dropped deeper or played as a second striker.

Now, via the Liverpool Echo, outspoken pundit Rafael Van der Vaart has claimed Klopp’s decision to play Gakpo up front is a grave misjudgement.

Van der Vaart said: “The biggest surprise for me wasn’t that Liverpool bought Cody Gakpo last month.

“Look, if you have the sort of tournament he did in Qatar, you’re going to attract interest from a lot of top clubs.

“But, for me, they’ve signed a player who has played his whole career as a left-winger, and in the national team he’s played as a number 10, a second striker… and now he’s playing as a striker? He’s not a striker!

“Cody needs space to play in, he needs to run with the ball, that’s where he’s most dangerous.

“That’s the biggest issue he has at Liverpool, why are they playing him as a number nine? He’s a left-winger who can cut inside and cause danger there.”

What makes Klopp’s call all the more surprising is the fact Gakpo playing up front has shifted centre-forward Darwin Nunez onto the left flank. In essence, the two players are playing in each other’s preferred position.

Both players could be moved again in the coming weeks after Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino both returned from injury against Everton.

Nunez highlights different reason for stuttering Gakpo start

In any case, Nunez – who himself hasn’t hit the heights yet at Anfield – pointed to a different reason behind Gakpo’s early struggles.

The Uruguayan stressed anyone would find it tough entering a team who are clearly off form at present.

Combined with the fact Gakpo is new to the league and the vast bulk of younger players especially need time to settle in, Nunez is not worried about Liverpool’s new frontman.

“Here at Liverpool I have teammates who are all high-quality footballers,” Nunez told Liverpool’s club media.

“I need to be able to understand how they play a little more and it’s the same for them with me. It’s what settling into each other’s games is all about.

“They get used to how I play and, in turn, I grow accustomed to how they play. I think that in time we’ll start to see some good and positive results.

“For example, Gakpo is a quality player and has a lot of class. He’s physically strong too. I think he’ll be able to make people very happy at Liverpool.

“You have to also understand that he’s come here at a time when we’re not in the best of form and he will need time to settle in too.

“I think he’s done well in the games he’s featured in so far. I hope that with time I’ll develop a great understanding and then go on to bring some joy to the Liverpool fans.”

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