Diogo Jota is struggling to match Roberto Firmino’s magic. So where should Liverpool go from here?
There’s been a change with Liverpool attack this season – well, there have been several but one stands out. Roberto Firmino, through injury or not, hasn’t been present.
The Brazilian has started just one Premier League game this season and he went off hurt before half-time. Instead, we’ve seen Diogo Jota playing the centre-forward role.
This is an important role for Liverpool. They don’t typically use attacking midfielders and when they do, those players drift wide rather than central. It means the burden falls on the centre-forward to operate between the lines and link attack with midfield.
Firmino is sensational at this and probably the best in the world. He’s simultaneously a striker and an attacking midfielder in one player, which benefits everyone.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane can rely on him moving the team forward and creating space for them. They can also bank on him being in the box and occupying defenders.
For Jota, though, this isn’t quite the same. In fact, it’s hurting Liverpool.
We saw the issue against Manchester City. Jota only touched the ball 17 times in the first half as Liverpool struggled badly to get out of their half. By comparison, Jack Grealish – who played the role for City – had the ball 22 times.
Grealish also completed an incredible 100% of his passes. For Jota, that number dropped to 70%.
In 68 minutes, Jota completed just 11 passes. Firmino, playing 22 minutes, managed six. The Brazilian also had the ball 15 times in that span – well above Jota’s rate.
You can also see the effect on Liverpool’s attack. With Jota on the pitch, Salah had the ball 31 times in 68 minutes. With Firmino, he had it 18 times in 22 minutes.
Does Jota lack the magic touch?
This is a problem that stretches far beyond one game. Jota has averaged 19 passes per game this season. Firmino averaged 36 in the role last season.
Liverpool just aren’t as fluid with their Portuguese forward playing centrally than with Firmino playing his usual part. Jota is more of a goal threat, certainly, and offers more running in behind but as a team? The Reds just aren’t the same.
And we’re not sure what the plan should be. Can Jota learn the role to its fullest? How long would that take?
Liverpool need to figure that out as they’re devoting a lot of time to playing Jota centrally. Firmino, who turned 30 at the weekend, won’t be an option for too many more season and the team needs a replacement.
Right now, though, we’re not sure if Jota is really working there. For certain games, he’s a dream threat as a striker. In others, as we saw on Sunday, Liverpool lose control.
It’s a big decision for Jurgen Klopp going forward, then. With Firmino looking to be in great form, it might be time to return him to a starring role. Jota’s future may lie elsewhere in the side.