Can Cody Gakpo stand tall for Liverpool in absence of Diogo Jota?

You know you’re cursed in the injury department when a player suffers a serious issue in that manner.

Diogo Jota was cut down in his absolute prime, having been landed on by Christian Norgaard during Saturday's 4-1 victory over Brentford, and the knee injury he has suffered threatens to rule him out for months.

There is no confirmation yet, but at this point, it would be a huge surprise if he returned to action before the spring.

It is a crushing blow, not only for Liverpool but also for the player himself, who has arguably been in the most impressive form of his Liverpool career.

His outrageous header into the path of Darwin Nunez for the opening goal at Brentford typified Jota’s confidence and intelligence, and he has felt like one of the Reds’ true leading men heading into the business end of the season.

With the Portuguese out for what is likely to be a sustained period, however, others will need to step up to the plate, delivering in big moments and producing his level of fight and influence.

Mohamed Salah’s return from an injury of his own has come at just the right time, and he was purring as soon as he was introduced in west London, scoring, assisting and feeling like he has never been away.

Meanwhile, Nunez continues to enjoy a largely strong season, even though sections of the media want to paint him as some sort of buffoon. He is scoring and assisting at an impressive rate, and improving in his all-round game by the week.

Luis Diaz isn’t always perfect when it comes to his final pass or shot, but he is a vibrant figure who is not only capable of hurting the opposition with his pace and trickery on the left wing, but also working relentlessly in a defensive sense.

The most enigmatic member of Liverpool’s attack currently is Cody Gakpo, though, with the Dutchman having plenty of admirers, but also those who want more from him.

In fairness to the former PSV Eindhoven star, his naturally languid air often works against him, compared to someone like Nunez’s all-action style, but he arguably doesn’t always use his towering frame effectively enough and could play with more belief and intensity.

That being said, Gakpo got a goal and an assist of his own against Brentford, flicking a header on for Salah’s strike and then completing the scoring with a good finish, and his season has been a good one overall.

He just isn’t yet the relentless force he was at PSV, when his numbers were relentless and he was one of the Eredivisie’s star men, registering 105 goal contributions (55 goals and 50 assists) in 159 appearances.

It’s now ten goals for the campaign for Gakpo, being shared across the Premier League, Europa League and Carabao Cup, and he has produced some influential cameos in games, using his quality well against tiring legs.

With Jota not around, however, Jurgen Klopp is now going to need Gakpo to find another gear on a more regular basis, with sporadic moments of class not good enough in what is going to be such a busy period for Liverpool.

With Salah, Nunez and Diaz, you know exactly what you are going to get, but when it comes to their fellow attacking colleague, it can either be sublime, average or wholly forgettable, as was the case away to Arsenal, when starting him over Nunez proved to be an error by Klopp.

Brentford v Liverpool Premier League 17/02/2024. Cody Gakpo of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Brentford and Liverpool at Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford, England on 17 February 2024. Brentford Gtech Community Stadium Greater London England Editorial use only DataCo restrictions apply See www.football-dataco.com , Copyright: xPaulxPhelanx PSI-19061-0113

There are simply too many matches on the horizon for the manager to only use the same trio in attack week in, week out, so Gakpo is likely to see plenty of minutes come his way from the start, and he cannot afford to be hit-and-miss.

It feels like it could be a defining period for the Netherlands international, whose first year-and-a-bit in a Liverpool shirt probably gets a B– rating.

A tally of 17 goals in 60 appearances is a perfectly reasonable return, especially considering he has only actually started 41 games, but an improvement on six assists would be nice.

There have been some great moments thrown in, not least a beautifully-taken double in last season’s unforgettable 7-0 win at home to Manchester United, but there is also a reason why he is fifth in the pecking order.

Between now and May, Gakpo could either excel, playing a massive role in the Reds finishing Klopp’s time at the club in legendary fashion, or he could not offer enough in games that are crying out for more.

Should the former happen, it will earn him a legion of new admirers, but should he come up short, it is only natural that more negativity will arrive, possibly even leading to doubts over whether he will ever be a genuinely great option for Liverpool.

Liverpool v Norwich City Emirates FA Cup Cody Gakpo of Liverpool in action during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match at Anfield, Liverpool Copyright: xPaulxChestertonx FIL-19571-0121

The beauty of Jota is that he is willing to die for the cause, which is partly why he picks up so many injuries, and you back him to deliver with a clinical late finish in a huge match or have an impact in some way.

Do you feel the same about Gakpo?

It’s hard to say yes.

This isn’t to say that Gakpo isn’t an excellent footballer in his own right, but to use one of Klopp’s most famous quotes, he needs to turn his doubters into believers, ensuring that Jota is missed as little as possible.

For now, there is no question that Salah, Diaz and Nunez make up Liverpool’s go-to attack, but with the need for rotation amid the inevitable fitness issues, the Reds will only go all the way in the Premier League (and other competitions), if Gakpo makes an impact of his own.

The biggest period in his Liverpool career starts now.

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