Diogo Jota: Liverpool's perfect squad player is battling for starring role

At one stage, it appeared as though Diogo Jota was going to be the long-term successor to Roberto Firmino. Not as a false nine but as the man to spearhead the Liverpool attack under Jurgen Klopp.

Now, though, he’s an afterthought for a lot of people.

The 26-year-old moved to Merseyside in 2020 and made an immediate impact playing as a centre-forward with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah either side of him. Injuries disrupted his debut campaign with the Reds but he still managed to score 13 goals and chip in with an assist across just 1,762 minutes in all competitions.

He was in the starting XI for the first Premier League match of the 2021/22 campaign, scoring the opening goal in a 3-0 win over Norwich City. Jota had 10 goals in the English top-flight before the turn of the year, scoring in games against Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Spurs as the Reds racked up some big wins with their number 20 leading the line.

Luis Diaz’s arrival disrupted the former Wolves winger. The Colombia international claimed the left-wing spot as his own and this forced Mane into a central area while relegating Jota to the bench for spells. It also meant that when he did get an opportunity, he was being shifted around the attack, playing on the right and left more often than he was playing as a centre-forward.

Despite this, he still managed to finish the season with 21 goals and eight assists, having appeared in 3,572 minutes. Only Sadio Mane (23) and Mohamed Salah (31) managed more goals for the Reds.

Liverpool then added Darwin Nuñez to their ranks in the summer, parting with an initial £64m to pry the explosive forward away from Benfica.

The 2022/23 campaign was a bit of a struggle for the versatile Jota. He missed the first five Premier League games of the season with a hamstring injury and managed just two starts before picking up a calf injury late on in the win over Manchester City in the middle of October. He didn’t reappear in the matchday squad until mid-February.

By this point, Cody Gakpo had been signed, joining the Reds from PSV in January, and he was playing the Roberto Firmino role in attack. The entire dynamic had shifted in the number 20's’s absence.

Jota’s first Premier League goal of the season arrived in April in the 6-1 win over Leeds United but he finished the campaign with seven goals and eight assists (Champions League included) in just 1,394 minutes.

He probably started the campaign as the first-choice centre-forward and finished it as a left-winger, getting minutes because of the injury to Diaz.

© Proshots - Diogo Jota

The same sort of thing happened again this time around to kick off the new season. Jota started the opening two matches as the centre-forward with Cody Gakpo dropping into midfield due to a number of injuries.

However, as soon as Klopp has midfielders at his disposal once again, Gakpo was shifted into the final third with the 33-cap Portugal international dropping to the bench. He then had to watch on from the sidelines as Darwin replaced Gakpo in the starting XI for the win over Aston Villa.

The Uruguayan impressed off the bench against Newcastle and forced his way into the team. Jota wasn’t credited with an assist in the win over the Magpies but it was his pass that Sven Botman failed to deal with and the ball fell the way of Liverpool’s number nine who confidently converted.

Jota looked sharp during the international break, scoring twice and assisting a goal in Portugal’s 9-0 win over Luxembourg, but he finds himself in limbo as a Liverpool player. He’s the perfect squad player in the sense he can play anywhere in attack and even when he isn’t at his best, he’s a real goal threat – both directly and as a creator.

After all, he has 58 goal involvements in 6,728 minutes. That works out at a goal or an assist every 116 minutes.

But is he going to be content with that role in the team given his impressive record whenever he is on the pitch?

At 26, he’s heading into the prime of his career and he needs to be playing regularly. It appears as though Diaz is Klopp’s favoured left-winger, Salah is an undisputed starter on the right and Jota is in a three-way battle for a start as the centre-forward along with Darwin and Gakpo.

He isn’t as explosive as the former while the latter is considerably better in the build-up.

This could be the one-time Atleti man’s last opportunity to stake a claim as a key part of the starting XI. Another injury-hit season could see him relegated to the role of squad player on a permanent basis. And that would be a bit of a waste considering how ruthless he is as a forward.

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