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Why Jota stands above his rivals as an aerial threat

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Liverpool's Diogo Jota. Photo by: PA Wire.

Liverpool's Diogo Jota. Photo by: PA Wire.

Liverpool's Diogo Jota. Photo by: PA Wire.

The last time Liverpool played in Porto, Diogo Jota was a helpless onlooker as his former club suffered at the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s destructive strike force.

Tonight, he is seeking to inflict further punishment on his home-town team, Liverpool having scored nine in their past two Champions League trips to Estadio do Dragao. The Portuguese can be forgiven any pre-match jitters.

With Jota in tow, Liverpool’s fearsome front three is becoming the latest incarnation of a Kop “fab four”.

It is exactly a year since Jota made his first Premier League appearance for Liverpool following his £43million (€50.3m) move from Wolverhampton Wanderers, marking it with the first of his 16 goals in 37 appearances.

Rather than break up his tried-and-trusted trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, from the outset, Klopp was more inclined to accommodate all four of his senior attackers, doing so most courageously away at Manchester City early last season.

Injuries across the squad, including Jota’s in mid-season, paused that experiment. The sight of Jota alongside Firmino, Salah and Mane during the second half of the frantic 3-3 draw with Brentford on Saturday hints at further attacking joyrides to come.

“I knew they were one of the best attacking trios in the world, but I never thought about coming and taking anyone’s place,” says Jota, relishing his integration. It is a testimony to his impact over 12 months that Jota so rapidly quashed the notion he was signed to be an able deputy.

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“He is a player made for our style,” Klopp said. What does that mean? “Pretty intense, technically good, really fast, good in the air, both feet really good.”

Amid that tribute is recognition of the extra attacking dimension Jota has brought – a potent aerial threat in the grandest Anfield tradition of John Toshack and John Aldridge.

Think of the great strikers who made heading their forte and you are inclined to think of old-fashioned target men rather than a nimble-footed 5ft 10in Portuguese striker. But just over 31 per cent of Jota’s Liverpool’s goals have been headers, the latest against Brentford. The figure increases to 42 per cent when applied solely to the Premier League, albeit the sample size is still relatively small.

The biggest compliment to Jota is that his aerial technique is reminiscent of one of the greatest of all Liverpool strikers, Robbie Fowler, who despite his relatively short stature was as devilishly lethal at finding space and finishing with his head as his feet.

Rewatch many of Jota’s goals and it is conspicuous, just like Fowler in his prime, how unhindered he is when connecting in the six-yard box, possessing that natural capacity to locate space and embarrass centre-backs who are left looking at each other and wondering who was supposed to be doing the marking.

That predatory instinct explains why Klopp will occasionally be inclined to use the deeper-playing Firmino with Jota rather than limit his choice to one or the other.

Jota spent a year on loan to Porto in 2016-’17, and many of his team-mates are still there.

He knows they will be determined to bury the demons of their heavy European defeats against Klopp’s side, who beat them convincingly en route to the 2018 and 2019 finals.

“I know those results weren’t good for Porto and they didn’t show the real difference between the teams,” Jota said. “Usually, playing at the Dragao is never easy for away teams. If we let ourselves go there and think about those results, then we will be struggling.”

Klopp was similarly determined to banish memories of the previous meetings.

“It’s not an advantage at all that we won the last two games there. Absolutely not,” said Klopp, who has Naby Keita available again, but is still without Thiago Alcantara and will give a late fitness test to Trent Alexander-Arnold.  

Porto v Liverpool

Live, RTÉ2/ BT Sport 3, 8.0

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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