Diogo Jota Form Gives Liverpool New Attacking Element.
Jurgen Klopp rejiggered his usual front three for Liverpool’s thumping 5-0 win away to Atalanta last Tuesday.
And it worked a treat as hattrick hero Diogo Jota — who came into the usual attacking trident in the place of Roberto Firmino — Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah all scored in the humbling of the Italians.
Although Gian Piero Gasperini’s tactics were accomodating, with the Serie A side man-marking the Reds’ players in their high lined defense, the success of the new-look front three will surely give Klopp food for thought going forward.
Liverpool could simply bypass the pressure of Atalanta’s press by dribbling or passing through and, on reflection 5-0 didn’t accurately show the English champions’ dominance, but the vast majority of opponents will not offer up so much space and will — as has been the default approach against the Anfield side for the last number of years — sit deeper in a defensively diligent shape with solidity foremost in their thoughts.
However, one team who may play in a similar manner — sans, perhaps, the Kamikaze man-marking — to the Bergamo based side is Manchester City, the Reds opponents in Sunday’s 4:30 PM kick-off at The Etihad.
Pep Guardiola is close to dogmatic in his adherence to possession football, the kind of play that necessitates a high line of defense. This approach, judging off Liverpool’s win in Atalanta — which, incidentally, was the biggest ever win by an English side away in Italy in European competition — could be meat and drink for the speedy triumvirate of Mane, Salah and Jota.
A prominent feature of the walloping of La Dea was how fluid the Reds’ attacking line was and how seamlessly they interchanged and dovetailed together.
Take Jota’s hattrick goal, for example. The Portuguese beautifully arched his run to remain onside and latch onto the incisive through ball of Mane. It was a perfect encapsulation of the qualities of the Liverpool attack; all of the players could run off the last shoulder of the defender, but each player can also drop deep to link the play and provide chances for others.
Another instance of the versatility of the English Champions’ attack was Mane’s goal. After a scything pass through the guts of the Atalanta defense by Salah, Mane showed a great degree of composure by cooly lifting the ball over the beleaguered Marco Sportiello on his left foot.
Jota’s brilliant performance has lead to some people on social media to criticize Firmino. It is a patently ridiculous stance to take. The former Wolves man’s form doesn’t suddenly make the Brazilian — a key cog to Liverpool’s recent successes — a poor player, but what it does show is that Klopp has different options at his disposal.
Firmino is, when on form, brilliant at dropping deep and linking the midfield to the attack and at initiating the first wave of pressure against the ball. Another element of the 29-year old’s play is that — in the manner of an old school, burly number 9 — he can mix it physically with big centre halves and play with his back to goal as a reference point to the team to use as a backboard.
An attribute the Brazilian international doesn’t have, though, is the type of pace that Jota is blessed with. This means that Firmino isn’t as capable of running in behind defenses, which isn’t an issue in most games because Liverpool have little to no space behind to exploit against low-block defending teams.
There is the possibility that, against certain teams, Klopp elects to play the Reds’ number 9 — one his of key lieutenants and a player he trusts implicitly — because he wants a more physical presence at the tip of his attack.
But then, in other games, the German could pomp for Jota — whose ability to play off the left, and, as we have seen at the beginning of this season, on the right of the attack will make him an extremely useful squad member — against the kinds of opposition, although they will be in the minority, who will play a high oriented defense when facing off against the six-times European Champions.
Mane and Salah, as shown against Atalanta and in many other instances, are well adept at providing creativity and prizing open defenses, so Liverpool can reduce their dependence on Firmino for creativity in the games that he doesn’t play.
Whether Klopp chooses the 23-year old Jota to play away to City, a game that could — even this early — have a huge bearing on the destination of the title, to attempt to spring in behind their defense or go with the former Hoffenheim man, whose off the ball work could disrupt the Cityzens attempts to build the play from the back, will be interesting in the extreme. Either way, to have such quality options, from the start or from the bench, is a brilliant position for Liverpool to build their hopes on.
The Firmino versus Jota narrative is already tiresome — especially because, with the Portuguese attacker primarily a left-sided player, they can and very likely will play together often — but the fact that the Reds have two quality players, who bring different skillsets and abilities to the table, vying for a place in their attack is to the benefit of everyone associated with Liverpool.