Jurgen Klopp must have some regrets right now. More so than ever before, his decision to play Diogo Jota in a Champions League dead rubber against FC Midtjylland has come back to haunt him. A player who was brought in to challenge the fearsome front three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane had in a matter of months become the most potent member of Liverpool's attack and the man Klopp simply couldn't leave out. But playing him in that final Champions League game, or even not taking him off after an hour? That was a huge error of judgement.
Jota picked up a knee injury that has ruled him out for two months, missing the most packed period of the season, and it's clear as day that Liverpool have struggled without him. Their recent form, especially in front of goal, has been pitiful and losing a Premier League game at Anfield for the first time in four years just compounds the rut they find themselves in right now.
The full-backs have been shut down while the front three who were so merciless are now tamed on a regular basis. No goals in their last four Premier League games, no wins in their last five. In fact, since that 7-0 thumping of Crystal Palace where the Reds looked to have put down a marker for the title, they've scored once and picked up three points from five games. That's relegation form.
Of course, you can look to the defence for issues. Injuries to Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have left Jordan Henderson and Fabinho filling in at centre-back, but in truth they haven't done a bad job. They've conceded just three times in their last five league games. However, it must be said, allowing Henderson to move back into midfield would give more drive to the team and allow Thiago to operate in more attacking areas, rather than the holding position he has been forced to fill in recent weeks.
So the attention must turn further up the field and, luckily for Liverpool, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. The end of January is expected to see the return of their new Portuguese superstar, but can he really save their title charge? There's a lot of pressure on the 24-year-old's shoulders.
His five goals in nine Premier League games (only five of them were starts) had Liverpool flying, while four in six in the Champions League saw them cruise into the knockout stage. As the new kid on the block he made his impression on the side and Liverpool were thrilling to watch yet again. In recent weeks they have been decidingly lacklustre.
What Jota brings to the table is something the other three have been lacking in the last month. His pace and direct runs in behind are troublesome for defenders, but most importantly, his clinical nature in front of goal and willingness to have a shot will definitely help this team. How many times have we watched Salah and Firmino shift the ball to each other in the box without getting a meaningful shot away? Jota shoots at every opportunity and this is what Klopp is crying out for.
Of his 17 Premier League shots on target this season, 11 have been on target, five have gone in and those shots have produced an expected goals (xG) of 2.53. Essentially, Jota was performing way above expectations in the first part of the season and it is unlikely that he will be able to keep this up on his return. However, the team will certainly improve once he is back in the side and should certainly start scoring goals again with the extra dimension he provides. The pressure of being dropped for Firmino, Mane and Salah could help them raise their game and start producing the numbers again.
However, with Van Dijk and Gomez still out, Jota would have to produce something superhuman for Liverpool to retain their crown. Things could have looked very different had he been rested that Champions League night.