The old saying goes, ‘when it rains it pours’ – and that’s exactly what has happened since summer signing Diogo Jota pulled on the red shirt of Liverpool.
The Portuguese forward has scored a remarkable six goals in his last four games for the Reds, unlocking the defences of Sheffield United, FC Midtjylland, West Ham United and Atalanta over the past two weeks and repaying the faith entrusted in him by Jürgen Klopp since his £40m switch from Wolves.
But in each of those games, the 23-year-old’s influence was heightened only by his own team-mates being below their brilliant best. The normally reliable front three on Saturday, at home to West Ham, managed just one shot on target in the first half and were only level thanks to Mohamed Salah winning and converting a penalty.
Jota provided the Reds with the penetration they had been lacking, finding space in the West Ham box to capitalise on a loose ball – a goal which was disallowed for Sadio Mané’s challenge on Łukasz Fabiański – and then dart onto Xherdan Shaqiri’s through ball to fire home.
And then, of course, came THAT mesmerising showing in Bergamo on Tuesday night, where he scored a superb hat-trick which saw him become the quickest Liverpool player to reach seven goals for the club in the last 20 years – outdoing the likes of Mo Salah, Luis Suárez and Fernando Torres in that regard.
While Jota’s form has been nothing but scintillating, the same can not be said Roberto Firmino. Before the Reds’ game against Sheffield United, the Brazilian had only scored twice in his previous 26 appearances.
Firmino generally offers a lot more than your conventional No.9, albeit regularly unnoticed. Appreciating the 29-year-old is difficult for the layman, but it is a taste a lot of football fans have acquired during his time at Anfield.
The Brazilian’s off-the-ball movement is a feature of Liverpool’s game and it can be measured. He covered more ground than any other forward in the Premier League last season and not just because he featured in all 38 of Liverpool’s matches in their title-winning campaign.Embed from Getty Images
The statistics show that Firmino also spent the lowest percentage of time walking of any Premier League forward. It sums him up. He is perpetual motion, making life difficult for defenders, leading the press, and determining where and when Liverpool win the ball back.
But with his tireless work rate and intricate interplay bringing the best out of Mané and Salah, sacrificing his own goalscoring touch seen in previous seasons could ultimately cost him his place in the starting XI.
However, is there potential for the two to play in the same team?
During Liverpool’s 2-1 win against the Blades, Firmino adopted a deeper role in a 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing Jota to play further forward. That position required different qualities and, during the early part of the match, it was not only the opposition players who were struggling to pick him up – his own team-mates appeared to be bypassing him too.
But his influence grew as the game wore on, drifting to the flanks, showing for throw-ins, and providing some neat touches in and around the 18-yard box. The goal seemed to have given him some much needed confidence.
It’s a system Liverpool would need to refine and familiarise themselves with, but it would suit the skillset of the players involved – and even add some variation to the team’s midfield play with Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum offering similar attributes when starting in midfield.
Despite Firmino’s poor run of form as of late, is starting Jota the answer to Klopp’s problems or is the Portuguese seen as more of an impact player? Ironically, it was perhaps Jota himself who made the best case for him remaining in his current role as a high-impact player Klopp can deploy as and when required as a substitute.Embed from Getty Images
Indeed, Klopp reiterated the point that “subs should have an impact”, and perhaps Jota’s combination of fresh legs, fresh ideas, and goal-scoring touch is just what Liverpool need if they are struggling to find the net. Certainly, he gives the Reds strength in depth in attacking areas – an essential attribute in this condensed season.
But scintillating displays like his man of the match showing in Italy prove that he can be just as productive from the start. And, surely, any player with Jota’s quality and enjoying the run of form that he is right now would expect to be starting games as opposed to being benched.
Klopp has had to make some tough decisions with his defence after a spate of injuries during the early part of the season, but Jota is giving the manager a dilemma at the other end of the pitch, too. Selection dilemmas a manager loves.
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