Gakpo not the answer to Klopp's biggest Liverpool conundrum

Sam McGuire
10 months ago

A point away at Stamford Bridge should never be viewed as a bad result. 

However, the performance against Chelsea was a bit of a worry if you’re a Liverpool fan. It was Mauricio Pochettino’s men who looked as though it was year eight of their project rather than this being their first Premier League match under the Argentine tactician. What the hosts managed to do was even more impressive when you factor in that three players were making debuts and they used a completely different system to the one they had trialled during pre-season.

The Reds were on top for the opening 30 minutes before Chelsea took control proceedings. The hosts dominated the ball and had 65% of the possession. They also won a lot of their duels. The home side weren’t able to make all of their possession mean anything though. They had fewer shots (10 to Liverpool’s 13) and most Expected Goal models had the game down as a draw.

By comparison, the away team seemed to be at odds with one another, and even the manager. In his post-match interview, Jurgen Klopp said his side were too standoffish in moments they should’ve been aggressive and front-footed. Some players seemed to be executing the manager’s tactical game plan whereas others weren’t and it caused confusion on the pitch.

READ MORE: Why Liverpool need Alisson's excellence more than ever this season

Klopp also made the bold decision to start Cody Gakpo in midfield even though Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones were on the bench. It was a strange call given the Dutch international was used in a role Jones excelled in towards the end of last season.

The German manager defended his decision afterwards, saying: “Oh he [Cody Gakpo] is [used to the midfield role], he played that pretty much the whole pre-season,”

“I think modern football is like that, that players can play different positions. The role suits him, definitely. He is super important for us. I think today you could see, first game of the season, a lot of spaces to cover, gaps to close.

“That was actually our problem in the game, that we tried to close the gaps by dropping instead of by stepping in. It is the first game, not the last, so we have a lot of things to improve, no doubt about that. But I saw already a good basis.”

Gakpo’s stats tell a bit of a different story. He was on the field for 66 minutes and he attempted just 13 passes. Of those, 77% found a teammate and he created one chance, though crediting him with that is a kind given it was the pass prior to the Mohamed Salah shot that hit the bar.

He attempted two dribbles and completed one. The former PSV also managed to win just one of his three tackles and just four of his eight ground duels, while losing both of his aerial duels. Gakpo managed five ball recoveries and committed three fouls.

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Chelsea seemed to have a lot of joy down their right side with Gakpo often getting caught out when looking to press.  He was regularly a few seconds off the pace and it allowed the Blues to easily play through that side of the pitch.

Curtis Jones was given 24 minutes off the bench and he attempted more passes than the man he replaced (18) and he had a higher success rate (89%). The versatile midfielder also completed 100% of his dribbles, won two of his five ground duels and made four ball recoveries.

Harvey Elliott was on the pitch for just 13 minutes but he attempted nine passes, just four fewer than Gakpo, and he had a higher success rate too (89%). The No 19 also finished with a dribble success rate of 100% and he won all of his ground duels while making two ball recoveries.

Now, obviously, the game state needs to be taken into account here. Players were tiring and Chelsea subbed off their two main outlets in Ben Chilwell and Reece James. But Liverpool did look better after adding Jones into the midfield and if he’s fit, you have to wonder why Klopp didn’t start him in the middle third. It would’ve given the Reds a better balance and ensured they had options off the bench for the final third. As it was,  Liverpool used four of their five senior attackers in the starting XI and finished the game with a front three of Ben Doak, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai. Klopp’s options in midfield are limited due to outgoings but he made it much more difficult for his team yesterday with his selection.

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