Liverpool have been slow starters in recent months but Diogo Jota’s return to fitness could be exactly what Jurgen Klopp’s side need
When Diogo Jota signed for Liverpool from Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 2020, there was a handful of sneers from sections of the Midlands club’s supporters who thought they had raided the Reds’ transfer gurus of £45m in exchange for the Portugal international.
Jota ended his three-year stay at the Molineux, whom he had joined from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2017 on an initial loan, and arrived on Merseyside largely as an unknown quantity. Doubts, if there were to be any lingering from those at Anfield, were quickly eliminated as he fired an impressive 13 goals in 30 outings during his maiden season with the Reds – one which was blighted by a significant spell on the sidelines.
However, the 25-year-old’s second campaign on Merseyside was one which started with an ample amount of promise as his early season form saw him earmarked as Mohamed Salah’s closest competitor for the Premier League Golden Boot, firing 10 league goals before the turn of the year. But following the premature signing of Luis Diaz in January from FC Porto, coupled with Sadio Mane’s Anfield resurgence, Jota found minutes and goals hard to come by as he added just five league goals to his impressive pre-Christmas tally.
Having suffered a recurrence of a previous hamstring injury during the opening stages of the Reds’ pre-season tour of the Far East in July, the former Wolves man has since been forced to watch the opening weeks of a frustrating season from the sidelines. But after making his return from injury during last weekend’s Merseyside derby, where he almost secured maximum points for his side only to spurn a glorious opening in added time, the Portuguese forward will no doubt be thrust into the action soon enough with him and his team-mates facing the gruelling prospect of four games in just 11 days.
His return is undoubtedly a welcome boost for his manager Jurgen Klopp who is now tasked with preparing his ever-thinning squad for three games each week until the Premier League’s winter break in early November, with Jordan Henderson the latest member of the squad to be sidelined following his withdrawal against Newcastle last week.
After all, it’s been a far from ideal start to the new Premier League season for Klopp’s side having mustered just two wins from their opening six games. The second of which came in dramatic circumstances against the Magpies last week as Fabio Carvalho’s effort crashed off the underside of the crossbar deep into additional time to secure all three points.
Despite the victory, which feels like it could be a monumental early season turning point for Klopp’s side, there was another unwanted blemish on a memorable Anfield night, which produced the club’s latest winning goal in the Premier League era. However, such circumstances only transpired after a dramatic second-half fightback, with Liverpool once again tasked with coming from behind as Alexander Isak handed the travelling Toon a moment to savour with a distinct finish at the Anfield Road end midway through the first-half.
But the issue of Liverpool falling behind is nothing new, with Klopp’s men conceding first in ten of their last 12 outings – prior to Saturday’s Merseyside derby – with the two exclusions coming in May’s FA Cup final against Chelsea and the record-equalling thrashing of Bournemouth late last month.
For Liverpool, though, Jota may just hold the answer judging by his electric start to life on Merseyside since the summer of 2020. Despite enduring a challenging second half of the 2021/22 campaign, no one within Liverpool’s ranks scored more opening goals than the nine that came from the former Wolves forward last campaign.
Blessed with a unique versatility of ensuring quality is deployed anywhere across the front line, the Reds’ No.20 fired opening goals against Norwich, Burnley, Atletico Madrid and Southampton before the turn of the year and then netted further openers against Arsenal (CC), Leicester, Arsenal (PL), Nottingham Forest and Watford from January onwards.
In comparison, last season’s top goalscorer Mohamed Salah, who found the back of the net 31 times in all competitions, only opened the scoring in three matches during the 2021/22 season. While Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane achieved such a feat just five times between them last term.
For everything the Portugal international – who was rewarded for an impressive first two years at the club with a new long-term contract this summer – has achieved thus far at Anfield, it still feels he has an abundance of diversity to offer his manager and team-mates in attack despite the additions of Diaz and Darwin Nunez so far in 2022.
Having only returned to training full training last Thursday and subsequently propelled straight into the closing stages of Saturday’s scrappy encounter at Goodison Park, Jota will be part of the travelling contingency that descends on Naples come Tuesday night. And the 25-year-old could even find himself starting Saturday’s contest with his former side Wolves, with Nunez and Salah still yet to hit the ground running for Liverpool this campaign.
The forward’s return, though, could just be the saving grace Liverpool need in the coming weeks as they hope to dust off the cobwebs and replicate the form that saw them almost etch their names into the Anfield history books by achieving an unprecedented quadruple earlier this year.