After a poor start to his Liverpool career, Cody Gakpo came alive in the Merseyside derby, scoring and being one of his side’s best players in the 2-0 win over Everton.
When he was signed from PSV for around £40m in January, it was hoped he could be the creative force Jurgen Klopp’s side desperately needed to turn around their season.
The Dutchman was anything but in his first six matches, failing to score a goal, get an assist or do anything of note at all.
He was much better in his seventh though, and if the club want to beat Newcastle and keep their already slim hopes of finishing the season in the top four alive, it’s crucial Klopp gets the best out of him again.
A number of players have struggled to adjust to the Premier League after coming from the Eredivisie, and that proved to be the case for Gakpo.
While he could have done some things better himself though, he wasn’t exactly helped by his manager.
In four of his first six matches, he was put in a position he’s had no experience playing in the past, being given the role of a lone striker.
At PSV, he almost exclusively played as a left winger, and when not lining up there for the Netherlands, he’s been either a number ten or one of two strikers in a 3-5-2 setup.
Adjusting to a new position is hard enough when you’re playing at a club and level you’re used to, let alone in a completely new and more difficult environment.
What’s more, it’s not a position he’s really suited to. Despite being well over six feet tall, he doesn’t have the aerial ability or strength to win physical battles against centre-backs, making it difficult for him to win headers, hold up the ball or cause problems.
Against Everton, Gakpo was given a role far more suited to him and it resulted in a performance in which he looked worth the hefty sum of money Liverpool spent on him.
While still playing through the middle, the Dutchman was flanked from the off by two players – Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah – who like to drift inside and get in behind defences. With those two often sitting narrower and occupying the Everton centre-backs, Gakpo didn’t have to battle them himself and was instead able to drop deeper and into space.
The teamsheet may have said otherwise, but he was playing more as a number 10 in a diamond formation than as a lone striker in 4-3-3.
It was a similar role – playing centrally behind two strikers – to the one he thrived in at the World Cup, and he impressed again in the derby, creating a number of chances when picking up the ball from deep, whether by dribbling past his opponents and into space or by picking out a pass, and scoring himself.
If played as a lone striker and given two centre-backs to go up against himself against Newcastle, things won’t go well for Gakpo.
Those two centre-backs, Sven Botman and Fabian Schar, happen to be two of the best in the Premier League right now and would dominate him physically.
However, if they have to deal with Nunez and Salah too, there’s reason to believe Gakpo can wreak havoc in the spaces just ahead of them.
Newcastle are without their first-choice holding midfielder, Bruno Guimaraes, at the moment due to suspension, and while Joelinton has been OK there in his compatriot’s absence, it’s not his natural position as more of a box-to-box-player.
This could give Gakpo the chance to get on the ball and cause problems from deep as he did against Everton.
He’ll struggle if up against the Newcastle centre-backs as an out-and-out striker or one on one with Kieran Trippier on the left wing, but could be a real force if allowed to drop deep and find space as he did against Everton.