Liverpool knows that replacing Roberto Firmino will be a mammoth task, but Cody Gakpo showed against Manchester United that he may even hold one advantage.
Since arriving on Merseyside around two months ago, Cody Gakpo has been getting to grips with the reality of becoming the new Roberto Firmino at Anfield. The Brazilian has served Liverpool for eight years but this summer, he’s destined to depart once his contract expires.
Throughout Jürgen Klopp’s tenure, Firmino has operated as the focal point of his team’s attack. Now 31 years old, he’s established himself as a true connector on the field, operating as a cultured false nine who benefits everybody from his spot through the middle of the pitch, opening up valuable spaces for Sadio Mané — who is now at Bayern Munich — and Mohamed Salah in particular.
Everything has revolved around Firmino, which explains why Gakpo’s task looks destined to be a difficult one. Still just 23 years old, the Dutchman has plenty of time to continue improving in his quest to become a capable heir, but on Sunday afternoon, he showcased why he could even be deemed as an upgrade at times.
Liverpool hosted Manchester United in a Hollywood clash between two English heavyweights, and after 42 minutes of football, the scores were level at 0-0. In the 43rd minute, the Reds assumed possession and Gakpo drifted towards the left flank, swapping places with Darwin Núñez, who moved central.
Andy Robertson had control of the ball, and he played an incisive pass in the direction of Gakpo, who cut inside past Raphaël Varane and rifled his shot towards the far corner of the net. It was an impressive goal, and it instigated what ended up proving to be a record-breaking 7-0 victory.
Gakpo is familiar with the wings, having been deployed on the left for PSV Eindhoven before his high-profile transfer to English shores in the January transfer window. Before his move, he had scored a healthy total of nine goals while registering 12 assists from just 14 appearances the Dutch Eredivisie this term.
When Klopp bought him, he essentially purchased a wide forward, but one who would be retrained as a central presence upon his arrival at Anfield. Gakpo is still learning how to behave like Firmino, but his experience of how to play on the wings is what benefited Liverpool against their historic rivals.
Manchester United tend to adopt a man-orientated system when defending under Erik ten Hag. For the most part, each Red Devils player picks up a designated player and sticks tight to him, which is why Gakpo caused huge problems for his opponents
Rather than remaining through the middle for the entirety of the bout — which is perhaps what Firmino would have done, considering his lack of comfort out wide — Gakpo regularly switched places with Núñez and disorganised Ten Hag’s defence in the process.
The trio of Mané, Salah and Firmino were known for being fluid and adaptable, but that could be taken to a whole new level in the coming years due to Gakpo’s versatility in comparison to the man that he’s replacing.
Succeeding Liverpool’s cherished number nine is not going to be an easy task, but based on the early evidence, it looks like Gakpo is going to do things his own way.