Manchester United are tracking PSV Eindhoven youngster Cody Gakpo to address their inadequacies up front.
After the loss of Wayne Rooney as a central striker (the player saw himself being played in positions like attacking and central midfield in the dying embers of his career) and players such as Juan Mata and the reliable Henrikh Mkhitaryan failing to stay consistent either due to their age or the inability to fit in a United system, the Red Devils have struggled to find players that excel up top in the creative role.
Academy graduate Marcus Rashford made a blistering start to his United career, debuting in the 2015-16 season. The young Manc put on a splendid display, with his best season coming in the 2019-20 season. Aged just 22, the forward got 22 goals and 12 assists across all competitions (stats obtained from Transfermarkt).
However, the English international’s form petered out in the following seasons. On the right, United signed a young Jadon Sancho for a reported fee of £73 million to solve the club’s right-wing woes but even his introduction hasn’t been enough, with the club seeing the major portion of their goals coming from the sole striker up front, Cristiano Ronaldo.
New manager Erik ten Hag has struggled all pre-season to nail down a player for the right-wing position. The Dutch manager has been trying to get his preferred option, Antony, from Ajax but the manager’s former club are demanding exorbitant amounts of money from United. With options dwindling and United in dire need of reinforcements up top, the club has shifted its gaze to another Eredivisie talent, Cody Gakpo.
Gakpo plays for the Dutch club, PSV Eindhoven, as an attacking player. The player is rated very highly amongst the top brass of European football and has previously attracted attention from clubs such as Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona, and Liverpool [Daily Mail].
Gakpo is essentially a left winger/midfielder who was deployed further up the pitch in Eindhoven’s 4-2-3-1 system under Roger Schmidt (now replaced by Ruud van Nistelrooy).
The player is reliable when hugging the byline, with his swift thinking and quick feet helping him to get out of tight situations. He is also positioned further inside the pitch when fullback Philip Max is asked to provide the width. Gakpo’s attacking acumen has even earned him starts in the striker role. Perhaps it is best not to label the Dutch youngster only as a left winger or striker.
Gakpo sure is entertaining to watch. Intelligent dribbling paired with the ability to strike the ball off the dribble is a quality that United have been lacking for a while. Players like Rashford have often been criticized for their decision-making in the final third.
United’s morale should be boosted by the fact that Gakpo has been moulded into the player he is today by current PSV manager, Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has coached the PSV U-17s and U-19s before.
The 23-year-old has found great success under ex-United star, Van Nistelrooy, scoring twice in the Eredivisie’s opening game while also providing a goal and two assists in Netherland’s equivalent of the Community Shield against Ajax, as his team PSV beat the defending Eredivisie champions 5-3.
While Ruud was synonymous with the opposition penalty box area, Gakpo is known for operating on the left and cutting inside to score goals. Therefore, comparisons to Rashford have been drawn already.
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There have been questions about whether United should sign another winger when they already feature Rashford, Sancho, Facundo Pellistri, Amad Diallo, and Anthony Elanga in their squad. However, this is a club whose players need competition.
The players faced accusations last season that cited that they have grown complacent and have made peace with the fact that the club doesn’t compete with the big boys anymore, and you can see why. Competitions in certain positions can either promote healthy development or force players who don’t wish to play for the badge out of the club.
Cody Gakpo can inject freshness into the Manchester United squad. The dutchman scored 12 and assisted 13 goals in the Eredivisie last season (stats via transfermarkt) and helped PSV to keep up the pressure on Ajax for the league title all year. Ten Hag has seen Cody Gakpo play. Perhaps the dutch attacker’s introduction can just be the nudge in the back that certain players at Manchester United need.
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