Diogo Jota was once again Liverpool’s difference-maker on Saturday, scoring the winner against West Ham at Anfield after previously netting vs Sheff Utd and FC Midtjylland this past week. Should Roberto Firmino make way?
Diogo Jota scored for the third straight Premier League game at Anfield
Diogo Jota is Liverpool’s new match winner. But is it time he became a regular starter for the Premier League champions?
The 23-year-old summer signing from Wolves has hit key goals in each of Liverpool’s three games over the past week, unlocking the defences of Sheffield United, FC Midtjylland and West Ham.
But in each of those games, his attacking team-mates have been below their best level. On Saturday, at home to West Ham, Liverpool had managed just one shot on target in the first half and were only level thanks to Mohamed Salah winning and converting a penalty.
Jota gave them the penetration they had been lacking, finding space in the West Ham box to tuck-in a loose ball – a goal which was disallowed for Sadio Mane’s challenge on Lukasz Fabianski – and then to dart onto Xherdan Shaqiri’s through ball and fire home.
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win over West Ham in the Premier League
He has been the difference maker. With the mouth-watering Premier League trip to Manchester City looming next Sunday, there are now calls for Jurgen Klopp to find room for Jota in the starting XI.
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Here, we look at the options…
Break up the fab three? It would have been unthinkable earlier this year. But a combination of Roberto Firmino going through a dry spell and Mohamed Salah developing his game to operate in more central areas, the prospect of rotating out the hard-working Brazilian is no longer off the table.
In an exclusive interview ahead of this game, Klopp told Sky Sports Salah has “developed again as a player, from that pure goalscoring machine to a more connecting player, very important for us,” and by moving the Egypt international up top and swapping Mane from left to right, space could be created for Jota to operate in his favoured position on the left of a front three.
Is Roberto Firmino's position under threat?
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Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher outlined that new-look trident after Liverpool’s win over West Ham and said while he is not pushing for Firmino to be dropped, if his run of three goals in 29 does not improve, Jota can ease the goals burden on Salah and Mane.
“I don’t think anyone is calling for Firmino to be dropped as such, and this all of a sudden becomes Liverpool’s front three but Bobby Firmino is not a huge goal threat,” said Carragher.
“At times he’s in the team for different aspects of his game. A lot of that is pressing, working, winning the ball back, supplementing the wide strikers. But you also still want goals from him and assists; he’s playing in the attacking part of the pitch. And if Jota is actually bringing that…I do think it just gives you an extra goal threat Liverpool at times possibly lack.
If in the next few weeks things continue how they are with Bobby Firmino, you may be looking to get Jota in, as an extra body on that pitch who you feel could get you a goal.
“Liverpool are one of the top goal scorers in the league but sometimes you do watch Liverpool and you think, there’s so much pressure on Mane and Salah to score because the midfield three are not really going to score. Virgil van Dijk was always a huge threat for Liverpool from set-pieces, that’s gone. And the full-backs are great at assisting but they are not full-backs who get goals either, really.
“So there’s so much pressure on that front two and that’s why maybe, if in the next few weeks things continue how they are with Bobby Firmino, you may be looking to get Jota in, as an extra body on that pitch who you feel could get you a goal.”
He’s in a good moment. A good player. And really happy that we could make that signing, so it’s a win-win situation. I think we can help him and he can help us a lot.
Jurgen Klopp on Diogo Jota
Form part of a front four, with Jota or Firmino in a deeper role
But could Klopp play Jota from the start and keep his trusted trio of Firmino, Salah and Mane in the team too?
Well, the fact is Klopp has already had a look at this option. Last weekend against Sheffield United, Liverpool switched from their favoured 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, with Jota playing wide left of that supporting trio, Mane on the right, and Firmino behind Salah.
Firmino and Jota celebrate against Sheffield United
It’s a system Liverpool would need to refine and familiarise themselves with, but Sky Sports pundit Micah Richards believes it would suit the skillset of the players involved – and even add some variation to the team’s midfield play.
“You’ve got Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum in midfield, quite similar: work hard, can pass the ball,” said Richards. “I’d be tempted to throw him in the midfield role, or drop Firmino back and play [Jota] out on the wing.
“He’s got that technical ability, he can find a pass. I watched him a load at Wolves, even in the Championship before he came to the Premier League, thinking, ‘can he step up?’. He showed he can do that at Wolves. And now he’s playing with even better players.
“I wouldn’t be too hasty in trying to get Firmino out of the team because he’s done an exceptional job for the way Liverpool want to play. I’m talking about putting Jota in that hole, there’s space in there for him. He’s too good to be on the bench. But it’s just finding that right spot for him.”
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Stay as a super sub
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.
“I’m always on the bench seeing the game, thinking what could I do different to unlock the result, and fortunately I did two goals – just one counted – but in the end we got the victory,” he told Sky Sports after the game.
I'm always on the bench seeing the game, thinking what could I do different to unlock the result.
He then revealed what Klopp had told him before he went on. “To be lively,” he said. “With the game time, the other team gets tired. We need to do movement, movement. So, fortunately, I got the space. The manager chooses eleven and then we just need to do our job.”
Indeed, Klopp reiterated that point – “subs should have an impact” – and perhaps Jota’s combination of fresh legs, fresh ideas, and a knack of finding the net, is just what Liverpool need on their bench if their tried and trusted options cannot find a way through.
Certainly, he gives Liverpool strength in depth in attacking areas – an essential attribute in this condensed season.
“There’s no doubt he’s a huge upgrade on what Liverpool had in terms of back-up last season,” said Carragher. “And the fact we’re having a discussion about Liverpool’s front three and whether someone could actually break up that front three shows it’s a major addition, we never had that conversation last season with the players that came in, one of them being Shaqiri, Divock Origi as well.”
Jota scored his third goal in three games for Liverpool with this strike against West Ham
Graeme Souness agreed, and believes Jota is also a player who will only get better at Liverpool.
“There’s room for Jota and Firmino,” he said. “There’s nothing like competition for places that gees you up.
“And I think he’s a fantastic addition. It wasn’t a surprise Liverpool went for him, I think the bigger surprise is why did Wolves sell him? Twenty-three years old, not yet reached his full potential…
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“The beauty of where Liverpool are right now, when you’re top of the pile, you can bring players in and they don’t have to go straight into the team to be a major influence from day one. Man Utd are in that position where everyone has to come in and be an influence. Liverpool can sit back, let the player have a good look at it and then introduce him slowly.
“I would imagine pretty quickly he’ll be challenging Firmino for a starting spot. Why not? He’s got goals. It’s a goal every three games near enough at Wolves and he’s in a better team now so that should only improve. He can only get better.”
Klopp has had to make some tough decisions with his defence after a spate of injuries. But Jota is giving the manager selection dilemmas at the other end of the pitch, too. Selection dilemmas a manager loves.