Jurgen Klopp has been very vocal in condemning the tight football schedule this season and the damning impact it is having on his team. His defence has increasingly weakened with Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joseph Gomez all out with injury, writes Amarachi Orie.
However, with Diogo Jota continuing to impress, having scored the only Liverpool goal in their 1-1 draw with Brighton, Klopp is still spoilt for choice when it comes to picking his front three.Embed from Getty Images
Sadio Mane started the match at the Amex stadium on the bench while Jota was positioned on the left to play alongside Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
Jota started the game energetically. He tried to set up Salah in as early as the second minute, but his pass was too soft. He then tried to take a shot for himself in the seventh minute, but the rushed strike only earned him a corner after coming off of Ben White.
The Reds had started the game with an eye on goal but their high press left them empty at the back and they began to struggle with the counterattacks of the Seagulls 10 minutes in.
Jota’s passes were intercepted and he was too easily dispossessed by the home side, who were eager to exploit the Champions’ open defence. The Reds were lucky to make it to the second half without conceding, after Neal Maupay failed to convert a penalty given away by 19-year-old Neco Williams.Embed from Getty Images
The Portuguese international tried to leave a better mark on the game in the second half, again starting with confidence and lots of energy. Jordan Henderson had been brought on to help tighten the Liverpool defence, allowing the team to push ahead.
In the 60th minute, a smart pass from Salah allowed Jota to run into the middle with the ball and take an unstoppable right-footed strike at goal. This was the forward’s eighth goal in eight appearances and his ninth goal since joining the Reds.
His good form and impressive statistics have not gone unnoticed. Klopp substituted Mane into the game halfway through the second half yet, instead of replacing Jota, he replaced Salah.
The managerial decision was that the newly-signed Jota was the irreplaceable one, not the number 11 who has been a key part of the team for over three years. Jota remained in the front three line up but was pushed over to the right to make space for Mane on the left.
Jota has played in all three forward positions, showing his flexibility and ease in fitting into the squad. Nevertheless, the question remains as to which player will have to make room for him to be there.
In Saturday’s game, he started in Mane’s position and then later took Salah’s. However, Mane is too crucial to the squad for Jota to always take his place. The Senegalese international’s partnership with Andrew Robertson is too effective to be tampered with.
Mane headed in Robertson’s free kick in the 83rd minute, which would have doubled the visitors’ lead if it was not ruled off for offside.Embed from Getty Images
Jota is most effective in the centre, from which he netted a hattrick for Liverpool in their first game against Atlanta in the Champions League. It was also the same position into which he ran to claim his goal in this match.
Even so, with the team’s defensive insecurities, Jota’s permanent position is not the manager’s most pressing dilemma. A late challenge from Robertson on Danny Welbeck led to a penalty which saw the Reds lose their lead in extra time.
Liverpool’s point was enough to take them above Tottenham to top the Premier League table, having played a game more.
Although, more needs to be done if they want to stay there. Klopp’s calls to change the match fixtures are loud. Liverpool’s defensive fragility is blatant.
Yet, Jota’s overhaul of the team’s once unchallenged front three – Mane, Firmino and Salah – is being done ever so quietly.
Follow Amarachi on Twitter @iamarachii