Cody Gakpo or Darwin Nunez: Who should be Liverpool's starting striker?

  • Gakpo and Nunez have both saw gametime up front for Liverpool this season
  • Both are ready-made replacements for the recently departed Firmino
  • We assess who should be the main man up front for the Reds

Liverpool have two quality striker options
Liverpool have two quality striker options / Richard Sellers/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images, Matt McNulty/Getty Images

Liverpool bid farewell to one of their all-time great strikers during the summer when Roberto Firmino left the club upon the expiration of his contract at Anfield.

Usually when a player of the magnitude leaves there's a period of transition in which the club struggles to find a replacement.

That has not been the case for Liverpool.

Instead, Liverpool have two perfectly Firmino replacements on the books already in Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez, with the only problem they face being: which should start?

We at 90min have tried to answer that question:


Darwin Nunez
Nunez has impressed recently / Matt McNulty/GettyImages

OK, so we're starting off with a fairly easy category to pick a winner for.

While Gakpo has managed just one goal so far during the 2023/24 season, Nunez has chalked up four goals and two assists in all competitions.

A pretty straightforward win for Nunez.

Winner: Darwin Nunez

Link-up play

Cody Gakpo, Thiago Silva
Gakpo plays the false nine role well / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

There's a very, very good reason why, when Liverpool were light on midfield options in the first few weeks of the season, Gakpo was dropped in to cover in the centre of the park instead of Nunez.

Gakpo, through his ability to play as a centre mid or as a false nine at the tail-end of last season, showed that he's extremely competent when dropping in to receive the ball to feet.

The stats prove it too, with the Netherlands international clocking up a 10% better pass completion despite playing double the number of progressive passes per 90 minutes. Overall, Gakpo can be expected to complete four more passes than Nunez per game too which indicates that is more successfully links-up play with his Liverpool teammates.

Winner: Cody Gakpo

Work rate

Nunez in the wars / ADRIAN DENNIS/GettyImages

Speaking after the win over West Ham United at the weekend, Jurgen Klopp was keen to point out that Nunez's defensive actions have greatly improved this season.

"The defensive work he puts in now, that’s probably the main difference. He always wanted, but it was less coordinated. Now that looks much better and we found a way how we can do it around him," he said.

If the inventor of all-action 'heavy metal football' is praising your work rate, you must be a bit of a grafter.

Winner: Darwin Nunez


Cody Gakpo
Gakpo is efficient in front of goal / Apinya Rittipo/GettyImages

If you want a striker who has a large number of pops at goal during a game, then Nunez is your man. Per 90 minutes, one can expect the Uruguayan to rack up 4.38 shots on goal - 46.2% of which will be on target.

If you want a striker who opts for quality of strikes on goal over quantity, then Gakpo is your man. The Dutch forward holds an impressive shots on target to goals rate of 53%, and has actually outperformed his xG over the last year by +0.06. Nunez, on the other hand, has underperfomed according to xG by -0.12.

For his efficiency in front of goal, we have to give this category to Gakpo.

Winner: Cody Gakpo


Darwin Nunez
The sky is the limit / Matt McNulty/GettyImages

Both players are 24 years old and were born within one month of one another - Nunez in June and Gakpo in May - so both should be entering their peaks very, very soon.

While that is the case, at the moment it feels like there's much, much more to come from Nunez than Gakpo. And that's down to the marked improvement we've seen in Nunez's performances year on year since he joined Liverpool.

The Uruguayan is a better player than he was this time last season, showing more of an awareness of space in and around the penalty area, more ruthlessness in front of goal, and, as Klopp mentioned, a better "defensive work" rate as well. Gakpo, on the other hand, is fantastic but he is essentially the same player he was this time last year.

Winner: Darwin Nunez

Overall winner - Darwin Nunez

Darwin Nunez
The winner / Ian MacNicol/GettyImages

It was close, and there certainly much between them, but Darwin Nunez ultimately gets our nod as Liverpool's starting striker moving forward.

The 24-year-old's recent form seems like a real turning of a corner for the striker and he deserves praise for the huge improvements he's made to his overall game at the start of the 2023/24 season.