Diogo Jota’s red-hot start to life with Liverpool has given Jurgen Klopp a selection dilemma as the Portugal forward’s goal spree puts Roberto Firmino under pressure.
Jota’s Champions League hat-trick against Atalanta on Tuesday underlined his credentials to start Sunday’s crucial Premier League clash against title rivals Manchester City.
Portugal forward Jota has made an instant impact since joined the English champions from Wolves in a £41 million ($53 million) move in September.
The 23-year-old netted on his home debut against Arsenal and has now scored seven goals in 10 appearances, including six in Liverpool’s last four matches.
Jota already has more goals for Liverpool in 2020 than Brazil forward Firmino, who has netted just once this season and only five times in the calendar year.
While Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane remain untouchable in Liverpool’s front three, Firmino cannot be so sure of retaining his place if Jota maintains his flying start.
Firmino has struggled to match the goal-scoring exploits of Salah and Mane for much of his time at Anfield, but his tactical awareness and prodigious work-rate made him indispensible to Klopp.
Fits like a glove
Much of Liverpool’s success is based on a ferocious work-rate and the forwards are expected to lead the high press favoured by the Reds boss.
But Jota is already well versed in that style of play as Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo used a similar game-plan.
That has given him a head start settling into Klopp’s team and against Atalanta he was preferred to Firmino in the starting line-up.
Klopp has consistently picked Firmino for big matches and it will be fascinating to see if he goes back to the Brazilian when the Premier League leaders face City at the Etihad Stadium this weekend.
Salah, Mane, Firmino and Jota started together for the first time in a win against Sheffield United last month.
It is unlikely Klopp will repeat that 4-2-3-1 formation many times, but he insists trying to give his ‘fab four’ enough playing time to keep them satisfied is a problem he is happy to have.
“Good performances never give me a headache,” Klopp said. “But the world is sometimes a bad place that in a moment when someone is shining we speak immediately about another player.
“It is important we have more than 11 and Diogo played a super game and that says nothing about Bobby and nothing to do with causing me headaches.”
Klopp’s selection issues will strike a chord with Jota, who is an avid fan of the Football Manager computer game.
Jota passed the time during England’s spring coronavirus lockdown by playing the management simulation for hours, leading non-league minnows Telford to promotion.
“I’m quite addicted but in a good way. I really like to play and use a good part of my free time involved in football, even through e-sports,” Jota said.
Several months ago, Jota was not the top priority for Liverpool, who were looking at Leipzig’s Timo Werner as their major close-season signing.
The German striker eventually joined Chelsea instead, but it was only after Watford’s asking price for Senegal winger Ismaila Sarr became too high that Klopp moved for Jota, who was recommended by his assistant Pepijn Lijnders.
So far, Jota has fit like a glove and his qualities have been ideal for Liverpool’s attacking system.
Firmino retains Klopp’s support, but if he starts against City he must feel the need to add more goals to his game given Jota’s impact.
“It feels like Bobby Firmino played for us 500 games in a row and we wouldn’t be in the Champions League if he is not with us,” Klopp said.
“He will be in the team, and for a lot of people in the world if you ask them ‘what makes Liverpool special?’ they would say ‘the way Bobby Firmino is playing’.”