Diogo Jota: Already a signing of the season?
"We would not even be in the Champions League if Bobby Firmino wasn't with us, and immediately, I have to explain why he's not in the team,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after new signing Diogo Jota inspired the Reds to a thumping 5-0 win over Atalanta away from home.
The Portuguese’s regal display against the Italians has opened up a hearty dialogue amongst the club faithful, and rightly so. Since arriving from Wolves for a fee that could rise up to £45m, making him the most expensive forward in the club’s history, the 23-year-old has settled in well to an extent that he has bagged seven goals for the club already. Bear in mind that he hasn’t even started half of the games this season, and two of his four Premier League goals have been the match winners.
On Tuesday, a hat-trick meant that he has now scored more goals for Liverpool in 2020 than Roberto Firmino despite playing 1,930 minutes less than the Brazilian. And this is where things get tricky. Roberto Firmino’s goal-scoring drought, even in the 2020/21 season, has coincided with Jota’s sumptuous form and the matters can rightly go south if there’s no upsurge.
Jota has been a luminary replacement so far, and that was made quite evident on Tuesday against Atalanta. Apart from his hat-trick, the Portuguese’s link-up play was swift and even the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane looked assured in his presence. There was no shilly-shallying, to say the least.
The former Wolves man has tucked in Klopp’s philosophy quite well, and a part of its credit is due to his former boss Nuno Espírito Santo, who deploys a something analogous ideology in his approach. Jurgen Klopp’s assistant manager Pep Lijnders once branded Jota as a ‘pressing monster’ and that partly sums why he hasn’t really had to put in extra effort in seemingly sliding into the team. Last year, in Wolves’ 1-1 draw against Manchester United, Jota made a whopping 53 pressures, matching Firmino’s personal best from the last three seasons.
It may very well be a speedy conclusion but Jota appears to be one of the signings of the season due to several attributes. Liverpool forwards, judging by their own standards, have had a rather slow start to the new campaign. In the first few games of the season, both Salah and Mane were far from their best. In fact, against West Ham on October 31, the team had just one shot on target in the first half and were level only because of a penalty. On came Jota and the impulse got a sudden upshift. He brought in the lacking sharpness and his clever movements of the balls was why Liverpool came with all three points.
That pity aphorism that ‘one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure’ is working in favour of Jota. Keep in mind that the initial idea of bringing in the Portuguese was to refine Liverpool’s attacking strength. But with Firmino managing a mere three goals in 29 appearances, the former Wolves forward can rightly push for a place in the starting XI. You see, no one is calling out to discard Bobby from his place as has his own attributes like running tirelessly to win the ball, feeding deadly through balls to the widemen, but he needs to have goals to his name as well.
As for Jota, the momentum is on his side and his inclusion has allowed Klopp to alter his approach. Against Sheffield last month, The German went with a 4-2-3-1 formation rather than his preferred 4-3-3, with Jota acquiring the right-wing while Firmino played just behind Salah. An approach like as this is certain to take its time, but given the quality, it is rightly expected to bear fruit.
No one really expected Jota to have the kind of impact he has had so far. But maybe that’s what worked for him. With expectations at their least, the Portuguese had little pressure, but however hulking it has been so far, he has dealt with it in mere perfection.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Miguel Medina