He’d netted goals in Liverpool’s previous three fixtures, including second-half winners in their last two Premier League games, but it was with his Champions League hat-trick against Atalanta on Tuesday that Diogo Jota put the argument beyond doubt. He is now the Reds’ go-to centre-forward, and Roberto Firmino will simply have to bide his time.
The Portuguese signing from Wolves this summer has made a tremendous impact, and manager Jurgen Klopp has handled the situation to perfection. While many Liverpool fans were hoping their side might replicate their form of last autumn and winter when they opened up a huge pre-Covid gap on the rest of the Premier League, it is one of their newest recruits who has been leading the way as they have returned to the summit seven games in.
And Jota has led from the front in Europe too, with his excellent display of forward play in Italy on Tuesday rightly catching all of the attention in Liverpool’s 5-0 win. When he picked up a knock in the second half, it gave Firmino a chance to play out the last 25 minutes of the one-sided encounter. But the Brazilian will have to get more used to being the bit part going forward.
In football if you attempt to stand still, you will inevitably lose ground. And clearly, Klopp understands that. Firmino was a magnificent part of Liverpool’s successes over the past couple of seasons as they became European champions and then broke their 30-year title hoodoo. His goalscoring output was never at the prolific end of the scale, but his combination play with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah was stunning. His thirst for hard work would so often create space for the remainder of the forward line to make hay in front of goal.
But now Klopp has somebody in Jota who is capable of providing that same clever movement but is also showing himself to be a reliable finisher. More than that, he is combining both qualities to maximum effect. His six goals in four games are no fluke. That is not to say that he will continue to score at the same rate, but if he is put into similar positions as regularly as he has been of late then he will continue to deliver the goals as well as the performances.
Less than two months into the new season, Klopp has shown the ruthlessness required to keep teams at the top. Not for him a sentimental choice of giving Firmino an extended run in a bid to rediscover the form that made him such a key part of Liverpool’s new winning era. Instead he has cut the cord early, identifying Jota as the man of the moment and, in all likelihood, the man of the future for a Reds side concentrating on adding more silverware this season and beyond rather than living off the triumph of 2019-20.
It’s great management, and it will be fascinating to see if Jota can now keep out Firmino and become Liverpool’s figurehead front man for good. He’s the clear choice for the foreseeable future, at least.