Liverpool’s injury crisis has centred around those missing in defence but Jurgen Klopp could receive a fitness boost at the other end of the pitch on Thursday night.
After a three-month absence, Diogo Jota is due to be involved in the mammoth clash against Chelsea at Anfield, it will be the Portuguese forward’s first game since injuring his knee back in December.
Jota’s injury left a bad taste in the mouths of Liverpool fans. He suffered it in a game he shouldn’t have been playing in – a dead rubber Champions League clash at Midtjylland and it has been costly.
Diogo Jota is fit again and could play a role for Liverpool against Chelsea on Thursday night
The Portuguese forward was sublime for the Reds before suffering a knee injury in December
While Klopp has undoubtedly been short of options in defence, Jota’s absence has robbed the German of any quality alternative to his famed front three and the reliance on Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane has never been greater.
But now Jota is back and would have been involved against Sheffield United had he not fallen ill the night before last weekend’s victory at Bramall Lane.
It is unclear how long he has got in the tank at the moment but he will come up against Chelsea’s Timo Werner on Thursday night, the man Klopp initially wanted to sign in the summer.
Werner’s early struggles in England have slightly damaged his reputation. He arrived from Germany as one of the world’s most in-demand forwards and a player with a rare combination of blistering speed and devastating finishing.
Back in May, as Liverpool prepared to continue their pursuit of a first Premier League title in 30 years after the Covid-enforced lockdown, Klopp was already planning for the future.
He had already made contact with Werner, then at RB Leipzig, and had done enough to convince him that Anfield should be his next destination when he decided to leave the Bundesliga.
Jurgen Klopp wanted Timo Werner in the summer but the German star ended up at Chelsea
Phone calls, meetings and WhatsApp messages had been exchanged. Werner wanted out of Leipzig and Liverpool seemed the perfect fit. A deal matching his £53million release clause looked a certainty.
But as the season concluded, there was no offer from Liverpool. After talks with Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group, Klopp rang Werner to inform him the deal didn’t exist anymore.
Reports suggested the owners had deemed the move no longer financially viable during the Covid pandemic with no sign of fans returning soon. But the club insisted that was not the case, although they were not willing to commit such huge finances to a player who would have only started as a squad player.
Chelsea did not hesitate and swooped in to bring him to Stamford Bridge. Liverpool switched their search to other targets and there was one closer to home who ticked all the boxes.
Jota had been a crucial component of the Wolves side who won promotion from the Championship under Nuno Espirito Santo and then established themselves as a top-half Premier League side.
Jota has a better goal-scoring rate than Werner, despite missing three months with injury (stats courtesy of sofascore.com)
But his form had tailed off towards the ends of 2019-20 and he started the opening game of the season on the bench for Wolves at Sheffield United.
Liverpool are meticulous in their analysis of potential transfers and were not put off by Jota’s dip so they forked out £45m. It may seem odd given Werner would have cost only £9m more but lower salary demands and Premier League experience made the deal less of a risk.
The Reds needed someone to come in and make an impact in attack. Klopp had the best offensive trident in world football at the start of the season in Salah, Firmino and Mane but a lack of quality in reserve could have led to standards slipping.
But what Klopp and his coaching staff probably didn’t expect was for Jota to be arguably the reigning champions’ best player in the opening three months of the season.
He has scored nine goals in 17 appearances for Liverpool, including a sublime hat-trick in the Champions League win over Atalanta in November.
There were also winners in Premier League games against Sheffield United and West Ham, as well as the only goal for Liverpool in a draw with Brighton.
Jota has nine goals in 17 games, whereas Werner has found the back of the net 10 times in 35
Jota’s signing gave Klopp greater options in his tactical set up, too. At Manchester City in November, Klopp played all four of his leading attackers in a 4-2-3-1 formation that caused City plenty of problems.
With Jordan Henderson injured and Fabinho being used defensively, Jota’s return could allow Klopp to use a similar formation moving forward, easing the burden on his limited midfield options.
But how does he compare to Werner this season?
Jota has nine goals in 17 appearances, whereas Werner has found the back of the net 10 times in 35 games. But given Jota has had considerably fewer appearances, he has a greater goal ratio of 97 minutes, compared to Werner’s 256.
The German has more assists (6) than Jota, who is yet to set a goal up for one of his Liverpool team-mates. That means Werner (25 per cent) has a better goal involvement percentage than Jota (24.3 per cent), but only just.
Jota (1.18) has enjoyed more shots on target per game than Werner (0.97) and has a better shot conversion rate of 26.5 per cent to the German’s 13.3 per cent.
One criticism of Werner in England has been his capacity to miss gilt-edged chances when he should score. That is highlighted by him missing 17 big chances, whereas Jota has only missed five of those.
Jota scored a superb hat-trick in the Champions League demolition of Atalanta in November
The Portuguese forward is back in training and missed the Sheffield United in due to illness
The Portuguese ace has proven to be deadly in front of goal, converting 54.5 per cent of his big chances in comparison to Werner taking only 32 per cent of his.
Those numbers suggest that, even though he has played considerably fewer minutes, Jota has significantly outperformed Werner in the majority of attacking areas.
It is too soon to debate who is the better signing, though. Both are impressive players and Chelsea and Liverpool are better off with them in their squads.
If Jota comes on at Anfield on Thursday night, his comparison with Werner is another fascinating plot line in what should be a crucial game in the race for Champions League football next season.
Liverpool go into the game one point off fifth-placed Chelsea and two points behind West Ham, who occupy fourth. It would seem unthinkable for the Reds to miss out on Champions League football but their form since Christmas has been abysmal.
But despite Liverpool’s significant injury issues they are still in the hunt and Jota’s return to fitness for the business end of the season could give them a boost at exactly the right time as they hunt down those above them.