Last term, Diogo Jota scored 21 goals in all competitions.
A remarkable campaign by anyone’s standards, especially considering he was often deployed on the left or sometimes even the right.
But over the summer, when Liverpool fans and the media alike plotted out prospective starting XIs, very few included the Portugal international.
He missed pre-season injured, and there wasn’t too much of an outcry of disappointment from Reds who were simply desperate to see what Darwin Nunez had to offer and were rightly excited to see how Luis Diaz would progress in his first full season.
Jota though has been greatly missed, and his absence a significant reason for our poor start to 2022/23.
Discussion regarding injuries has centred around Thiago, our only brilliant midfielder given Fabinho’s recent form, and whether Sadio Mane’s sale has hurt us – but Jota missing the first chunk of the season has been incredibly detrimental.
Against Ajax, he made his first start of the campaign and although he didn’t score, his contribution to the frontline was obvious.
Off the ball, he’s exceptional. He registered 100% tackles won, 100% dribbles completed, 100% crosses completed and 6/6 ground duels won.
Most importantly though, he managed to link up with his fellow forwards, getting within six-yards of Mo Salah to assist the Egyptian’s opening goal.
One of the issues regarding the frontline so far this term has been how isolated each forward is. Salah has been stuck on the right, Roberto Firmino very deep and Diaz wide on the left. There’s been no interplay. Similarly, Nunez hasn’t linked well either, bar his opening day cameo against Fulham when he managed to get close to Salah.
Jota presses from the front and is very good in transition, when the ball is won back. He has the ability to quickly dart towards the goal, with the ball at his feet or by making a run between defenders.
Liverpool looked far more energetic and had far more intensity versus Ajax than in any game this season, and Jota’s involvement was symbolic of this.
🗣️"We had a shaky beginning. Things are not quite right – a lot of forced changes through injuries… it is what it is and we just need to click from now on."
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) September 13, 2022
Jota has the advantage of being at the club for two seasons, meaning he’s truly settled, without the potential burnout in his legs and mind which could be affecting the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk, who have both started the season in terrible form after playing basically every important game the past five seasons.
Thiago, who is also entering this third season at the club, seems to be in a similar position. Emerging as a leader in the group, with a tenacity and willingness to fight for the biggest trophies. Remember, neither Thiago or Jota were part of our Champions League or Premier League success. Diaz wasn’t either and he’s likely been our player of the season so far.
Nunez needs a run of games in the team but given our current position, Jota should be starting ahead of him with the Uruguayan getting minutes from the bench in every game.
Our big-money signing will eventually tear it up, but he’s been signed as a finisher and is currently not finding the back of the net when in good shooting positions. His overall contribution outside of the box is not as good as Jota’s in terms of the buildup.
It took Fabinho and Robertson time to find their Anfield feet and both developed into world-class performers. There’s nothing to suggests Nunez won’t do the same. He’s physically unbelievable and looks a player who needs confidence. This will come. He’s too good to fail, and has already had 22 shots inside the box. These will turn into goals.
Jota though is an under-appreciated asset for us in terms of how the media regard him and maybe some fans, too.
He should be starting against Brighton next time out and hopefully his dynamism and link-up play will inspire more vibrant attacking performances.