Diogo Jota coming to the fore at crucial time for Liverpool ahead of Mo Salah absence

Diogo Jota can be a curious footballer to watch at times.

On a bad day, he can be infuriating, with touches proving to be heavy and his all-round involvement in games lacking, leading to him being seen as more of a squad player than an automatic starter.

But then Jota finds a run of form that truly makes you appreciate what a fantastic footballer he is, and why he is vital to any potential success Liverpool have this season.

As has become the norm, sadly, the Portuguese has already experienced an injury absence this season, but on either side of that, he has shown that he could end up being the Reds’ second-most important attacker in the coming months.

Mohamed Salah is on another level to any of his fellow attacking teammates, as he continues to rack up astonishing numbers, despite not always even having to be at his best.

He is going to be a huge loss for the rest of January, and while he may only miss one Premier League game, that is one too many, at a time when Manchester City will no doubt embark upon one of their ludicrous winning periods.

Meanwhile, Luis Diaz has fallen below former standards this season – he did look reinvigorated against Newcastle on New Year's Day, which was promising – and Cody Gakpo is an elegant player to watch, but needs to find more consistency.

Then there’s Darwin Nuñez, whose effort levels and ability to be in the thick of the action can’t be questioned, but whose finishing most certainly can.

He simply has to improve in front of goal between now and the end of the season, or he will struggle to keep his place as huge matches arrive. It is threatening to become a real problem.

What Jota has reminded us since his return from injury is that he is the most polished Liverpool attacker after Salah, and he has played a big part in the Reds staying top of the Premier League during the festive period.

Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones, ProShots

The Portuguese may only have been back for two games, both of which have been substitute appearances, but he has a goal and an assist to his name in that time, and has showcased why he is arguably the best finisher at the club, Salah included.

The manner in which Jota took his goal at Burley on Boxing Day was a lesson to the likes of Diaz and Nuñez, with calm and precision on show, while his assist for Curtis Jones against Newcastle highlighted the intelligence that he possesses, deciding not to shoot and instead tee-up his teammate at a crucial point in the game.

Klopp recently described Jota as a “very smart footballer” who "understands the game particularly well”, and it is moments like these that outline his football brain.

The Liverpool manager also added that "I really think Portugal is blessed with some of these kind of players who really understand the game on a different level - and he is one of them, definitely", saying this talent "gives him a chance to see situations slightly earlier, to adapt to different things the opponent is doing a little bit quicker."

He may not be as explosive as Diaz or Nuñez, or as aesthetically pleasing as Gakpo can be at his best, but he is a killer in front of goal and has ice in his veins at the most important moments.

Liverpool vs Newcastle, Diogo Jota, Propaganda

Take last season’s stoppage-time winner at home to Tottenham, for example, when he took his time and buried a nerveless finish into the Kop net. Nothing seems to faze him, and if anything, he revels in being the main man.

Five goals in eight league starts this season are a testament to Jota's goalscoring ability – he would surely have plenty more were it not for his recent layoff – while in the Europa League, he has netted three times in as many appearances.

With Salah now off to the Africa Cup of Nations, Jota will earn plenty of minutes in the next few weeks, giving him a chance to find even more rhythm ahead of the business end of the season.

Against Arsenal in the FA Cup this weekend, it would be a big surprise if a first start since November wasn't handed to him, and there will also be opportunities to star over two legs against Fulham in the Carabao Cup semi-finals.

It is when the defining games arrive in the Premier League title race that Jota needs to be on the pitch for as long as possible, though, and his impact of late has been a reminder that he can be underrated by many.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 30, 2023: Liverpool's Diogo Jota walks off after being shown a red card and sent off during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As mentioned, the Portugal international isn't always at the heart of the action in the same way Nuñez is – granted, he isn't always excellent from the start – but he is always waiting to pounce on a mistake and is someone opposition players fear because of it.

The 27-year-old even has an edge to his game that seems to rile other teams, and their fans for that matter – take the penalty against Newcastle, for example, or his celebration in front of the Leicester fans in the Carabao Cup in 2021/22 – and his tactical nous and tenacity off the ball make him a priceless member of Klopp’s squad.

Players like Jota win you trophies, and if Virgil van Dijk is hoisting at least one aloft in May, it wouldn't be a surprise to see that the Reds forward has had a major say in the success.

It's now 50 goals and 16 assists for Jota in just 84 starts for Liverpool, and as the business end of the campaign gradually kicks into gear, his influence feels as though it will usurp that of Diaz, Nuñez and Gakpo.

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