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Jurgen Klopp must replace Diogo Jota with unexpected Liverpool star after astonishing 10-goal run

Diogo Jota suffered a calf injury against Man City and is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines which will rule him out of the World Cup as Liverpool’s injury woes continue.

 

When it rains, it pours. The injury bug has certainly hit Liverpool hard this season with the Reds losing a number of new players to long-term setbacks in the last few weeks just as their previously walking wounded closed in on returns.

 

Arthur Melo was the first unfortunate star after suffering a thigh injury in training which ruled him out for four months. This was followed by Luis Diaz suffering a knee injury against Arsenal that will keep him out until 2023, and then Diogo Jota being ruled out of the World Cup with a serious calf injury that will sideline long-term, having been stretchered off against Man City.

 

Throw in lesser serious injuries suffered by the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate and it’s enough for Jurgen Klopp to start pulling his hair out, wondering what on earth he did wrong in a previous life. At least the returns of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara, alongside Curtis Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita’s recent involvement in training means, even with Arthur’s setback, Liverpool’s midfield injury woes have eased up considerably.

 

Yet, now the German has cause for concern elsewhere after losing both Diaz and Jota to long-term injury, with the Reds’ attacking quota increasingly threadbare. Last season, Klopp boasted seven senior international forwards in his ranks for the second half of the season following Diaz’s January arrival, ensuring he could comfortably navigate such issues.

 

But following the summer exits of Sadio Mane, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi, his options are now rather more depleted. He still has Mohamed Salah of course, fresh off signing an extended contract in the summer, while Roberto Firmino is in rich goalscoring form of late despite facing an uncertain future with his own deal set to expire next summer.

 

Meanwhile, £64m summer signing Darwin Nunez helps make up the senior quota of forwards, with youngsters Fabio Carvalho and Harvey Elliott the alternatives in reserve. With Diaz and Jota available, Klopp boasted strength in depth but now without them, he is at risk of a new injury crisis.

 

In response to Liverpool’s flailing form this season, Klopp had switched to fielding a four-man attack for the Reds’ recent outings in a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid system. Initially unleashed at home to Rangers, Salah and Diaz were stationed on either flank with Jota and Nunez down the middle with the same quartet kept together against Arsenal, only for the Colombian’s injury to result in the Portuguese being switched to the left and Firmino brought on in a central role.

 

In the 7-1 win away at Rangers, Elliott and Carvalho started on either flank with Firmino partnering Nunez. Meanwhile, the Brazilian then played centrally with Salah, with the England Under-21s international and Jota outwide for Sunday’s 1-0 win over Man City.

 

But with Diaz and Jota now long-term absentees, it leaves Carvalho as the Reds’ only available attacking option to have actually played on the left this season. Considering he is a 20-year-old with just just five Premier League starts and three Premier League goals to his name, this is far from ideal. And that’s even without considering his favoured position is through the middle, with Transfermarkt suggesting only three of his professional career appearances to date have actually come on the left for either the Fulham or Liverpool first teams.

 

Alternatively, Oxlade-Chamberlain could perhaps be an option as he steps up his own return from a hamstring injury suffered in pre-season. Yet the England international is expected to leave Anfield on a Bosman transfer when his contract expires next summer, hasn’t played a competitive game for the Reds since March and, with all due respect, historically has not been a player you can rely on to stay injury-free.

 

When Diaz was struck down by injury, Jota was the obvious replacement on the left. But now without both of them, Liverpool’s options are rather limited with it a gamble to consistently turn to either Carvalho or Oxlade-Chamberlain for varying reasons. However, there is an outside of the box alternative Klopp could consider in the pair’s absence.

 

Since signing from Benfica in the summer, one criticism of Nunez has been his tendency to drift out wide. Now of course Liverpool’s forward play has always been free-flowing and flexible to great success, but when wins dried up and goals were even more vital in a string of poor team performances, supporters’ desire for him to just stay central understandably grew.

 

Yet given the Uruguayan’s explosive and chaotic nature, he could actually provide an option on the left in the place of Diaz and Jota. After all, while he has minimal game-time in such a role, he certainly thrived when playing on the flanks for Benfica last year.

 

Last year the 23-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career to date, recording an impressive 34 goals from 41 appearances to prompt the interest of Liverpool in the first place. And while the majority of that game-time came down the middle as a traditional number nine, the returns speak for themselves for the times when Nunez was stationed on the left.

 

Playing just five times on the left according to Transfermarkt, Nunez returned a staggering 10 goals and an assist as he scored in every appearance he made in such a role. This included a first-half hat-trick in a 7-0 thrashing of Belenenses SAD, another treble in a 4-1 win over FC Famalicao and a brace in a 7-1 victory over Maritimo in three successive appearances on the left during a goal-laden run in November and December 2021.

 

He’d return to the role twice more during the season, in late January against FC Arouca and early April against SC Braga, scoring penalties in both as Benfica won 2-0 and lost 3-2 while also registering an assist.

 

Of course, there is a stark difference in the quality between Premier League and Champions League sides as the lesser oppositions on show in Portugal. As a result, it would perhaps be a surprise if Klopp did turn to Nunez in such a role, given his preference would perhaps be for his big-money summer signing to instead continue to find rhythm down the middle.

 

Yet, with options limited elsewhere, he might have no other choice. At least Salah and Firmino are more than competent options down the middle, with Elliott a more experienced option on the right.

 

Of course, considering the intense run of fixtures in the build-up to the World Cup, Klopp is going to have to rotate his side regardless. As a result, if such a solution is not considered, then another formation change could have to be on the cards given Liverpool’s lack of alternative attacking options in reserve elsewhere.

 

Nunez on the left isn’t ideal, but it at least suits his style cutting in from the flank and would limit his more challenging chances shooting across goal from the right. Arguably the closest other forward to Diaz in terms of raw pace at Anfield, it, at the very least, could be something for Klopp to consider as he looks to piece a side together from increasingly-depleted numbers.

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