Liverpool got a reminder of just how difficult it will be to replace Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian didn’t start against Real Madrid.
Roberto Firmino started on the bench against Real Madrid. Jurgen Klopp went with Diogo Jota as his centre-forward instead, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah flanking him.
It wasn’t a great surprise. Firmino has struggled this season, failing to score with any regularity and looking off the pace. Jota has felt like an upgrade as a striker.
It’s something that has worked well at times and we’ve liked it. But it is certainly different to having Firmino there.
And the game against Real was a reminder of that. Liverpool asked Jota to do the usual Firmino role – that is, drop deep to link with the midfield.
The Reds play without a no.10, after all, and require someone to drop deep so they have a passing option between the lines. That duty largely fell on Jota.
Though, he’s a very different player. He likes to run in behind, meaning both Mane and Salah found themselves in the role a lot.
Now, they’re okay at it but it’s not them at their best. They want to be attacking the channels and finding space in behind.
It also means Liverpool play very differently. They don’t have their usual shape, while they often lack an obvious out-ball through the middle.
But the biggest problem is simply that Jota isn’t particularly good at linking play.
In 81 minutes, he didn’t play a single key pass and finished with a 62 per cent completion rate. That was the lowest completion rate of any starting player and by some way.
In fact, the next-lowest was Thibaut Courtois with 71 per cent.
Importantly, we can compare Jota’s passing to Firmino’s. The Brazilian finished with 82 per cent complete in 10 minutes.
That involved completing nine passes – half of Jota’s total in 70 fewer minutes. Firmino also completed a key pass in his brief time on the field.
Going with the direct front-three of Jota, Salah and Mane will work sometimes. But against others – like Real – Liverpool need that link player to get through midfield.
They need a player who can help them move up and pin teams back. Someone who will reliably keep the ball and keep things flowing.
So this was a reminder that while Jota can improve on Firmino at certain things, he’s not going to replace the Brazilian. Liverpool would need to rethink their style, particularly from midfield, if they want to persist with the £41m man there.