Friday, January 21, 2022
The Portugal international has covered for the Afcon-enforced losses of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, scoring twice against Arsenal on Thursday.
It was the kind of touch Sadio Mane would have been proud of, and the sort of finish Mohamed Salah has made a career out of.
That’s the company Diogo Jota keeps these days, though. The Liverpool fans in the away end at the Emirates were comparing him to the great Luis Figo on Thursday night, and no wonder.
When the Reds needed a hero, it was their Portuguese prince who donned his cape, pulled on his mask and sent them to Wembley.
What a player. What a signing. They’ve made a few good ones in recent years, have Liverpool, and how they’d love a few more like Jota going forward.
At 25 years of age, he represents both an exciting present and a glittering future for the men from Anfield.
“Diogo’s on fire,” grinned Jurgen Klopp after Jota’s double had downed Arsenal in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final.
“He is a world-class player in possibly the best form he’s found himself in at the club so far,” added Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose passes had created both goals.
That’s 14 in all competitions for Jota this season, surpassing his 2020-21 total.
If eyebrows were raised when Liverpool agreed to pay Wolves up to £45 million ($61m) for his signature, then they have swiftly been lowered since. It looks a bargain.
“We knew we were signing a good player,” said Klopp. “But since he is in, he made another step.” Later, he would echo Alexander-Arnold’s 'world-class' description.
How Liverpool need him. With Salah and Mane away representing their countries at the Africa Cup of Nations, it is Jota who can hold the Reds together. It is Jota who can make the difference.
For weeks we have wondered if the likes of Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino could step up, but the answers came at Arsenal.
Origi was sidelined, injured until at least the middle of next month, while Minamino was benched, Klopp preferring to start 17-year-old Kaide Gordon in what was only his fourth professional appearance.
The Japan international, sadly, looks like he’ll never become the player Liverpool thought they were signing from Salzburg in January 2020.
He looked a smart pick-up at a little over £7m ($9.5m), and he’s had his moments since, but he just lacks that something you need to play in a Klopp side on a regular basis. He will be sold in the summer, one suspects.
Not Jota. It was he who set the Reds on their way, 19 minutes in, a driving run from the left sending Takehiro Tomiyasu tumbling and leaving Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale embarrassed.
A nerve-settler, if ever there was one, after a sloppy start from the visitors.
He was a menace thereafter, skinning White down the left to create a golden chance which Gordon really should have taken after half-time. The youngster’s eyes would have lit up, but his time in a red shirt will come, for sure.
It didn’t cost his side, in any case. Thirteen minutes from time, Jota timed his run to perfection to take Alexander-Arnold’s gorgeous pass on his chest and lift the ball over Ramsdale.
An offside flag cut short the initial celebrations, but VAR afforded him another chance. The let-off in the away end was something to behold.
“Mentality and quality were the reasons we signed Diogo,” said Klopp. “He has shown that for us. He is incredibly important.”
He has, for sure, usurped Firmino as the third prong of Liverpool’s attack. His aggression, his movement and his ability to press and to take up killer positions is everything Klopp wants, and everything his side needs.
And when you add the goals into the equation too, then what more could a manager want?
The reality is that Liverpool are going to have to evolve their team and their squad, this summer and beyond.
Beyond that, a midfielder is needed and at least one attacker too.
If they’re half as good as Jota has turned out to be, then Klopp really will be smiling.