Liverpool claimed a 2-0 win over Watford to keep the pressure on in the Premier League title race with Manchester City but Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota had very different days
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There are times during a Liverpool football match when it is easy to wonder just exactly what Diogo Jota brings to the party.
Not too many tricks or assists, that is for sure, although he did set up Bruno Fernandes for a goal that sealed Portugal’s passage to the World Cup in Qatar. He is not exactly whippet-quick, he does not skin defenders.
But in case you were actually wondering, he provided yet another example of the priceless quality he gives to Jurgen Klopp’s team. Jota is a natural-born finisher, very much cast in the Robbie Fowler-style of penalty box goalscorer.
You saw it in his previous Premier League outing with an opportunistic finish to break the deadlock at Arsenal and you saw it here with a classical headed finish to put Liverpool ahead. So often, Jota always appears to be one physical and mental step ahead of defenders.
So often, he selects the right kind of finish. He now has 14 Premier League goals, only behind penalty-taking Mohamed Salah, who has 20 (five spot-kicks). And it would take a long and hard search to discover a striker with greater aerial prowess. It does not matter how short or tall you are, heading is all about timing and technique.
Jota has both qualities in abundance. When Joe Gomez set himself to do an eminently passable impression of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jota darted between two defenders and did not have to break stride to divert the cross beyond Ben Foster. And twice in the second half, he rose highest to send in decent headed attempts.
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There is still some uncertainty about the amount Liverpool paid Wolves for Jota back in September, 2020. Various figures between £40million and £50million have been suggested but what is certain is that the Portuguese forward has been brilliant value for money. And he is one of the reasons why Liverpool will fancy themselves to go flawlessly until the end of the season and win the Premier League.
After the capture of Luis Diaz, Klopp has five high-quality attacking players at his disposal. He can perm any three from that five and they will carry a weighty goal threat. Well, normally they will. This time, Klopp sent out Roberto Firmino, Salah and Jota, and only the latter was anywhere near his A-game.
Salah, after his part in Egypt’s exit from the World Cup, was unusually subdued and cut a disconsolate figure when he was replaced by Sadio Mane. But if Liverpool’s attacking unit is not at its best, the defense more than compensates. And, of course, at the base of every great team is a great goalkeeper. That goes without saying.
Liverpool and Manchester City are blessed with keepers that must rank amongst the best this league has seen. And while Ederson probably has the edge in terms of audaciously good distribution, Alisson shades it in the shot-stopping category. His positioning, more often than not, is immaculate, as demonstrated when he was alive to a near-post corner routine that ended with a Cucho Hernandez header.
But his crucial intervention came when Juraj Kucka – Kuco to his mates – found himself through on goal but found the Brazilian’s figure too imposing to beat. It was a save that multiplied in importance when, a few seconds later, Liverpool took the lead. And it was a save that began an underwhelming afternoon for Kuco who, when Watford were occasionally threatening an equaliser, wrestled Jota to the floor as a Liverpool set-piece passed them both by.
Stuart Atwell had not spotted it but VAR sent him to the monitor and a harsh penalty was inevitable. Fabinho, a 62nd minute substitute for Curtis Jones, took responsibility from the spot and converted the kick with a conviction that had been lacking from a mundane Liverpool performance.
Mundane or not, they always looked highly likely to record a tenth successive Premier League win. That is because, in the vast majority of games, one of their attacking options almost always produces a match-winning moment.. And in case you were wondering, that, regularly, is exactly what Diogo Jota does.