Diogo Jota creates a problem for Liverpool that they’ve missed since Philippe Coutinho left the club. It is an exciting one, however.
Diogo Jota is far from another Philippe Coutinho. They play very different styles and, in truth, the Portuguese winger should fit in under Jurgen Klopp better than the Brazilian ever did.
But Jota does bring about a problem we haven’t seen since Coutinho left the club.
The Coutinho problem
Liverpool improved when Coutinho left. There’s little doubt about that – although, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk had a lot to do with that. Still, the Reds were a more cohesive unit once he was gone.
His departure allowed Klopp to play a 4-3-3 without any issues. The system worked perfectly – two pacy, direct wingers either side of a False 9. Two full-backs who drove into space the wingers vacated. Then a functional midfield three who primarily filled gaps on the pitch.
Perfect. It’s a fantastic system that has since delivered a European Cup and the Premier League. And it was only possible once Coutinho left.
But make no mistake – Coutinho was Liverpool’s best player for at least the last year of his stay. It’s just that he didn’t fit that system. If he was on the left, Sadio Mane couldn’t be. And Coutinho didn’t play as a left-winger who drove into space. He cut inside and shot from range – that didn’t work as well.
He was so talented, though, that Klopp had to play him. And that created a problem. Do you drop one of the front three? Do you switch up the system to fit everyone in?
The Liverpool boss faces similar questions on Saturday.
Jota, a £41m signing last month, scored twice and assisted another for Portugal on Wednesday evening. He’s in form, then, and that means Klopp will be tempted to play him against Everton.
But how does that work? Klopp will either have to leave one of his trust, hugely successful forwards out to make room or switch his system.
It’s arguably the biggest problem facing the Liverpool manager ahead of the Derby. It’s one he hasn’t truly dealt with since Coutinho left, either.
The front three of Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino has been set in stone for years now. They’ve been fantastic but, importantly, there’s never really been true competition.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi have been about but neither is near the levels of the usual three. Thus Klopp hasn’t had to worry – if the best trio is fit, they play.
Now, though, Jota is a spanner in the works. He’s in form, and is a far more natural fit than Coutinho ever was. Mane hasn’t played for a while, for instance, and Jota can easily play that left-wing role. Firmino is out of form but Jota has played as a centre-forward for Wolves.
Jota, then, is the first threat to the front-three than Coutinho. But given how good he looks, that’s nothing other than exciting.