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Firmino vs Jota: The dilemma facing Klopp before Man City

AP/London
Filed on November 5, 2020
A hat trick against Atalanta in the Champions League made it six goals in four games for Diogo Jota. — Reuters

Jota has scored more goals for Liverpool in the past 11 days than Firmino has in the whole of 2020

Roberto Firmino remains the leader of Liverpool’s heavy press and the player who has made fellow forwards Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah really tick over the last three years

It was one of the quirks of Liverpool’s comprehensive title-winning campaign in the Premier League last season.

Just how could the starting centre forward in the best team in England score only one goal at home?

Roberto Firmino’s rather miserly record at Anfield didn’t concern Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who preferred to look beyond the goal stats of one of his most trusted components of the team.

“How he uses the skills of his teammates is special,” Klopp said of Firmino in February, at a time when it was clear Liverpool would be strolling to a first league title in 30 years. “I do not know a player like him.”

Yet while Firmino remains the leader of Liverpool’s press and the player who has made Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah — the other two members of Liverpool’s devastating front three — really tick over the last three years, the Brazil international’s lack of end product has become an issue.

So, for the most significant match thus far of Liverpool’s title defense, and indeed the first blockbuster of this season’s Premier League, Klopp might be about to make one of the toughest calls of his tenure at the club and leave out Firmino for Sunday’s away match at Manchester City — the champions’ biggest rival.

Diogo Jota is the player who could break up a forward line that has been in situ since the start of the 2017-18 season when Salah joined from Roma. Jota, who arrived from Wolverhampton in September to bolster Klopp’s forward options, is doing what Firmino has failed to do for some time — score goals regularly.

A hat trick against Atalanta in the Champions League made it six goals in four games for the Portugal forward who, for spells over the last two years, struggled to establish himself as a regular in Wolves’ side.

Something is clicking at Liverpool, though. And while starting ahead of Firmino in a group-stage game in the Champions League is one thing — and could simply be put down to rotation — doing so away to City would be something else entirely.

“I’m playing in the best team of my career so far,” said Jota, who joined Atletico Madrid in 2016 but didn’t play a competitive match before being loaned to Porto for the 2016-17 season and then to Wolves. “I don’t know if it’s the best moment of my career, but obviously scoring goals is my way of playing football.

“Obviously they are two world-class players,” he added of Mane and Salah, “and we all know their quality, which makes it easier for me to do my job.”

Jota, who has recently started games for Portugal, has scored more goals for Liverpool in the past 11 days than Firmino has in the whole of 2020. They’ve all been quite different, too — a powerful header from a left-wing cross to complete a comeback against Sheffield United; a first-time finish for the winner against West Ham; runs behind the defense for two of his goals against Atalanta. He is as comfortable with his left and right foot.

Jota gives a new dynamic to Liverpool’s attack as he stretches defences more than Firmino, who typically drops deeper to link up play and allow space in behind for Mane and Salah.

So going without the Brazilian — and the extra control and work rate he brings to Liverpool — would be quite a departure for Klopp, a coach whose teams are known for their energy and suffocating press.

Klopp hasn’t had anyone providing such competition for his front three, with players like Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri never being anything more than backups. Otherwise, Firmino, who has one goal in 10 games this season, might have lost his place earlier.

“For a lot of people in the world if you ask them, ‘What makes Liverpool special?’ they’d say, ‘The way Bobby Firmino is playing,’” Klopp said after the Atalanta game, sticking up for his long-time leader of the line.

But Jota is putting forth an almost irresistible case ahead of a match which, if Liverpool wins, would put the champions eight points ahead of City going into the international break.





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