Darwin Núñez could soon get what he needs at Liverpool. Cody Gakpo is elite in a niche area, only matched last season by Mohamed Salah and a transfer ‘target’.
This is customary whenever a team signs a new player, Liverpool supporters have spent the last week poring over data and videos of Cody Gakpo. Many will have seen more of him at the World Cup than they had previously, so what will he bring to the Reds attack on a longer-term basis?
After all, the three goals he scored from four shots in the Group Stage in Qatar is not a sustainable return (and what Darwin Núñez wouldn’t give for a run like that right now, just to ease the pressure). However, there were aspects to his strikes at the World Cup which were unusual and others which were entirely in keeping with his career.
Take his goal against Senegal, for starters. Gakpo scored a header against the African champions, yet (per WhoScored) it was only the second headed goal of his career. It might be reasonable to expect a player who stands at 193cm tall to contribute frequently in this fashion but that hasn’t been the case to date.
Far more habitual was his effort against Qatar. Gakpo received the ball from Davy Klaasen in the left half space, then dribbled through the ‘D’ and into the penalty area, unleashing an unstoppable strike once he arrived. This was logged by Opta as a goal-ending carry, as he had the ball at his feet for at least five metres prior to taking the shot. In respect of this admittedly niche metric, the Liverpool new boy has few equals.
Per The Analyst, Gakpo has scored five times after completing a carry in the Eredivisie this season. For context, only three players managed as many in the Premier League in the whole of 2021/22, and just one – a certain Mohamed Salah – bettered it, with six.
Similarly, the Reds’ latest number 18 has also assisted five goals following carries this season, which only the one-time apparent Liverpool target Harvey Barnes equalled or bettered in England last term. Gakpo will obviously find it tough to maintain his form with the higher standard of football he will now experience but his skill in this area could prove to be of significant benefit to Núñez.
The pitch map in the above tweet highlights the chance-creating carries Gakpo recorded in the Dutch top flight since the start of last season. He was clearly an absolute menace from the left flank, which is just as well considering Liverpool need him to start performing there as soon as possible.
What arguably catches the eye most is that five of his 10 assists were from the left side of the penalty area and no further forward from the byline than the front edge of the six-yard box. It’s a zone from where cutbacks can be very productive, as Manchester City have proven so often over the years.
This 72 square-yard area to the left of the goal has also seen plenty of Núñez action in the last couple of weeks. It was from there at Villa Park that the Uruguayan’s attempted pass ultimately reached Stefan Bajčetić, enabling the 18-year-old to score his first senior goal.
Núñez then carried the ball to a near-identical spot in the first half against Leicester. From there, he found Salah, but the Egyptian steered his shot wide of the post. Nonetheless, it was the highest expected goal value chance the Reds generated on the night (per FBref), and it came from a Gakpo-style move. While it doesn’t quite meet this criteria, Núñez’s recent assist for Salah at the Etihad also saw him carry the ball into the left side of the box, if not so close to the goal line.
He obviously needn’t stop offering this style of threat once Gakpo is part of the side, but if the Netherlands international delivers it as expected, then Núñez can be the chance recipient more often. Like many forwards, the former Benfica man gives the impression that he is deadlier in front of goal when given less time to think, instead working on instinct.
A few nice fizzed passes from his newest teammate could be just what the Uruguayan needs – and if Salah can join Gakpo in finding the net at the end of dribbles again, easing the pressure on Núñez even further, then all the better.