Cody Gakpo exposes Darwin Nunez problem as Liverpool star set for bigger role

Cody Gakpo was an impressive performer for Liverpool against Spurs.

Gakpo hands Slot poser

There would be good reason for both Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez having a throbbing sense of deja vu at present. In almost an identical manner to 12 months previous, the season is ending in a contrasting manner for the Liverpool forwards.

Gakpo, after an inconsistent campaign, is once again finishing strongly as arguably the first-choice number nine. Nunez, meanwhile, has lost his way having for long periods been the preferred and most potent option down the middle this term.

This was another impressive showing from Gakpo, who has been one of the few Liverpool players to fully embrace the challenge following the March international break. Indeed, his absence in the Goodison derby defeat was sorely felt.

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Here the Dutchman’s strength, link-up play and ability to lead the line all impressed. And he provided numbers too, his clipped cross inviting Salah to score the opener before impressively heading home Elliott’s delivery for a deserved goal.

Gakpo should really have had another late on when Nunez’s fitful cameo was encapsulated by his inability to find his unmarked team-mate after a swift Liverpool counter-attack. The Uruguayan started only two of Liverpool’s final 10 games last season. This term, he’s lined up for just four of the last eight.

Arne Slot, the incoming Liverpool manager, will know all about Gakpo having come up against him in the Eredivisie. As with last year, there is genuine uncertainty over who should best lead the Reds' attack going into the next campaign.

Elliott sends message

If there’s one player who perhaps has had reason to grumble at team selection this season, it’s Harvey Elliott.

Having regularly earned the praise of Jurgen Klopp after a stream of impressive cameos, it has often come with the caveat they were more often as a substitute rather than as a starter.

Part of the reason for that has been Elliott not always being employed in what has become his preferred position on the right of the midfield triumvirate.

But having impressed in the role at former club Fulham a fortnight ago, here Elliott, making only a ninth Premier League start of the season, had taken it up a notch even before the blistering strike for Liverpool’s fourth goal.

Elliott created the most chances on either side while he was on the pitch and, underlining his often overlooked tenacity, made the most ball recoveries for the Reds. He now has four goals and nine assists for Liverpool this season and, factor in a profitable time with England under-21s, and Elliott has had 24 goal contributions for club and country this term.

At 21, he is only just getting started. Next season could be a big one for Elliott.

Bajectic’s difficult return

The doom-mongers will point to Liverpool losing their way somewhat having cruised into a four-goal lead. And certainly the party atmosphere among the Anfield crowd momentarily dissipated.

But Tottenham were ultimately well beaten by a Reds side that, freed from the pressure of the title race, demonstrated why they were involved in that conversation for so long.

Was there a bit of payback in mind after the VAR fiasco in the reverse fixture back in September? Possibly. That, though, no doubt made this victory even sweeter.

Wataru Endo was hardly at his very best but it was only when he was replaced that Tottenham were able to make significant inroads at the Reds defence. Part of that was due to the ring-rustiness of Stefan Bajcetic, who hadn’t featured for the first team in almost eight months and had made only two outings since his last Premier League appearance more than a year earlier.

“He comes on and it’s like you arrive on the motorway with your bicycle!” said Klopp afterwards.

But Bajcetic merely being on the pitch was a relief after such a difficult time with injuries. The youngster is one of the rare people for whom this season is ending far too early.