Why increasingly divisive Luis Diaz remains a huge player for Liverpool

If there’s one player who seems to be dividing opinion among the Liverpool fanbase at the moment, it’s Luis Diaz.

There always has to be at least one individual who falls into that category, remember. It's an unwritten rule!

The Colombian has been a largely successful signing since arriving in spectacular fashion from Porto two years ago, injecting much-needed new life into a 2021/22 season that was threatening to run out of steam for the Reds.

It’s easy to forget now that Liverpool were not playing well when he joined because they ended up coming close to winning an unprecedented quadruple, but he was a difference-maker in that campaign.

Since that season ended, Diaz’s stock has fallen a little, considering he looked like a genuine world-beater in those opening months at Anfield — someone who could arguably be every bit as influential and exciting as Sadio Mane.

A knee injury cruelly robbed him of the majority of the 2022/23 season, and there is a fair argument to say that he has lost some of his explosiveness since returning last spring.

This season, he has received a mixture of praise and criticism, with some wanting far more from him and others seeing him as an undisputed key starter in the attack.

Take Saturday’s 3-1 win over Burnley, for example, with the 27-year-old taking plenty of flak for some poor decision-making in the first half, leading to some of Liverpool’s attacks breaking down.

At half-time, there was much frustration with him, but others were also quick to defend him, not least when he expertly headed home to put the Merseysiders 2-1 up after the break.

That was a huge moment in a game that Liverpool were finding tough, and it isn't the first time he has come to the fore at an important time.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Burnley FC LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 10, 2024: Liverpool s Luis Diaz L celebrates with team-mates Curtis Jones C and Wataru EndÅ R after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda LIVERPOOL Anfield MERSEYSIDE ENGLAND PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Copyright: xDavidxRawcliffex P2024-02-10-Liverpool_Burnley-46

It was a performance from Diaz that almost summed up his season — not necessarily world-class or something to rival Mane from the left wing, but still far better than many have given him credit for.

The Mane aspect is something that immediately works against him, considering the Senegalese is a genuine Liverpool legend and someone who produced such a relentless stream of end product over a number of years.

He was a killer in the final third and Diaz isn’t. They are very different players, though.

There are certainly times when Diaz gets into fantastic positions but it doesn’t lead to a goal in the way it did with Mane, or does with Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota currently, and for that reason, you can be left wanting more.

Away to Arsenal earlier in the month, for example, he found himself in the penalty area after a rapid Liverpool counter-attack, but he didn't show enough intent to run at Ben White and his shot was eventually blocked.

Football - FA Premier League - Arsenal FC v Liverpool FC LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 4, 2024: Liverpool s Luis Diaz celebrates his side s first equalising goal during the FA Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda LONDON Emirates Stadium GREATER LONDON ENGLAND PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Copyright: xDavidxRawcliffex P2024-02-04-Arsenal_Liverpool-40

That being said, though, Diaz has now scored nine goals this season, in all competitions, which has to be considered a good return overall, especially when you consider the role that Jurgen Klopp is asking him to play.

The Colombia international is someone who isn't being told to get into the box on a consistent basis, often hugging the touchline and stretching the opposition instead.

It is, therefore, only natural that his numbers aren’t going to be as productive as others, so it is unfair to constantly compare him to them.

In his first half-season at Anfield, Diaz averaged 2.4 dribbles per game in the Premier League, but this term, that tally has dropped to 1.4, which is a significant change. He is also down on shots per game — 2.9 compared to 2.0 — further suggesting that his role has been tweaked.

It looks as though Klopp has decided to trade excitement with solidity when it comes to Diaz, although there is also the argument that the knee injury has simply taken a little spark from his game.

That seems unlikely, however, considering Diaz's age and the fact that it wasn't an ACL issue that he suffered, and what he may lack more now in taking people on has been replaced with more goals.

None of this is to say that he isn't still electric at times, beating players and linking beautifully with those around him, but he is a slightly different player to the one who consistently got fans off their seats when he first signed.

Liverpool v Chelsea - Premier League - Anfield Liverpool s Luis Diaz celebrates scoring their side s fourth goal of the game during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Wednesday January 31, 2024. EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUKxIRL Copyright: xPeterxByrnex 75209071

As is so often the case in football, there is a middle ground that exists with Diaz where he could be offering more in aspects of his game but is also a vital cog in the Reds machine. That final decision in and around the penalty area isn't at a truly elite level, so there will be times when his finishing or final ball is frustrating, but he has also still contributed so much this season.

The manner of so many of his goals also suggests that he is improving when it comes to his poaching instincts, with his effort against Burnley proof of that — strikes against Chelsea (home and away) and Luton are other examples, too — and he remains one of the Premier League's outstanding wide players.

Diaz's defensive game is also not spoken about enough, offering so much help to whoever is at left-back and never shirking in his off-the-ball duties. His energy is infectious.

Would Diaz get into Liverpool's starting XI if everyone was fit and there was a huge game tomorrow?

That is up for debate, because of the competition provided by Salah, Jota and Darwin Nunez, as well as Cody Gakpo. But what remains clear is that Diaz is going to be an influential figure between now and the end of the season, not only contributing with his own end product, but using his selfless style to the benefit of others, creating space for them to work their magic, too.

If Diaz is your biggest issue at the moment, Liverpool must be doing pretty well.

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