No goals for a year! Diogo Jota's disastrous form is yet another Liverpool problem for Jurgen Klopp to deal with

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Diogo Jota Liverpool 2022-23
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The Portugal international has not found the net in 31 games, but does have a great record against Sunday's Anfield visitors, Arsenal

At the final whistle, Jurgen Klopp made a beeline for Kai Havertz, throwing his arms around the Chelsea forward like a sympathetic parent. Maybe it was simply a gesture of gratitude. Liverpool, after all, had somehow escaped Stamford Bridge with a goalless draw and Havertz, having squandered a series of chances to deepen the Reds’ crisis, was as responsible as anybody for that fact.

More likely, though, is that this was Klopp, a genuine football man, recognising a player under pressure, a player low on confidence, in need of an arm around his shoulder and a few kind words. 

Whatever the motivation, Havertz seemed to appreciate his countryman’s decency, but Liverpool have their own misfiring forward to worry about at the moment.

Klopp’s next bear hug at Stamford Bridge was reserved for Diogo Jota, but the Portugal international's struggles are a head-scratcher for his manager, and need sorting if Liverpool are to return to anything like their former glories.

  1. The goal drought

    The goal drought

    When Jota found the net for Liverpool in a 2-2 draw against Manchester City on April 10, 2022, it merely confirmed his status as the Reds’ man for the big occasion.

    It was his 21st goal of the season, and 14 of those had been either an opener or an equaliser, Liverpool’s first goal of the game. Jota, more so than even Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane, was the player Klopp looked to when the safe needed cracking. 

    Who ever would have thought that his Etihad strike would be his last for pretty much a year, then? The 12 month anniversary of that City goal is Monday. Jota finished 2021-22 with a run of 13 scoreless appearances, and the drought has continued into this season.

    He is now 31 games without a goal for his club, and hasn’t scored for anyone since netting Portugal’s fourth in a 4-0 win over the Czech Republic at the end of September.

    For a forward of such talent, and who has set such high standard previously, that is unacceptable. Even Havertz, as maligned as he has been, has scored nine times for Chelsea this term.

  2. What's happened?
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    What's happened?

    Injuries, of course, have played a part in his drought, but still Jota has started 16 games for Liverpool since his last goal. 

    For whatever reason, though, the sharpness and penalty-box instinct that defined his first 18 months at Anfield seems to have deserted him. Where once his movement and finishing ability drew comparisons with the likes of Robbie Fowler, now the 26-year-old sits on the periphery of games, often drifting deep or wide, unable to utilise his key strengths.

    This season in the Premier League, Jota has managed only three shots on target across a dozen appearances and 609 minutes. His shooting accuracy, 25 percent, is by far the lowest of Liverpool’s forward players, as his expected goals (xG) tally of 2.06. 

    He may point to a little bad luck. He would surely have had a goal at Bournemouth, for example, had his goalbound header not struck the arm of Adam Smith. Salah, of course, missed the subsequent penalty and Liverpool’s season has run wildly off course since. 

    But still Jota has missed half a dozen Opta-defined ‘big chances’ this season, and when he was played in by Curtis Jones in the first half at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, his lack of conviction was clear to see.

    The pass demanded a driven, first-time strike - the kind we have seen from him many times before - but Jota opted to try and check back inside, allowing Marc Cucurella to snuff out the danger. He would not get another sight of goal all evening.

  3. The positives
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    The positives

    The good news, however, is that while Jota might not be scoring, he is at least creating.

    He has registered 11 assists since his last goal, including an excellent one for Salah at the Etihad last weekend. This season in the Premier League, he is creating more chances per 90 minutes (1.77) than any Reds forward bar Salah and his expected assists (xA) tally is in line with the Egyptian’s, as well as Darwin Nunez’s and Roberto Firmino’s, suggesting the quality of chances he is providing for team-mates is pretty decent.

    He works tirelessly, too. “A pressing monster,” assistant manager Pep Lijnders called him after his move from Wolves in 2020, and though his season has been plagued by muscle injuries - he missed the start of the campaign with a hamstring problem and then was out from October to February due to a torn calf - he still wins possession back for his team more often than any other forward, and more than twice as regularly, per 90, as either Salah or Nunez.

    Clearly, he still has plenty to offer, and reports linking him with a move away from Anfield this summer should be ignored. Getting him back scoring, though, must be a priority for Klopp and Co.

  4. Finding a role

    Finding a role

    Injuries aside, where Jota has suffered most is with the evolution of Liverpool’s forward line under Klopp.

    For much of last season, he started as the Reds’ No.9, usurping Firmino as the roaming, hard-running attacking focal point.

    Luis Diaz’s arrival at the end of January, and the manner in which the Colombian settled in at the club, led to a reshuffle though. In the latter part of the season, with Diaz a must on the left flank, Klopp moved Mane into a central striking position, leaving Jota (and Firmino) to be content with a rotation role.

    The summer arrival of Nunez, and that of Cody Gakpo in January, has further complicated matters. Both have played wide left and both have played centre forward, while Jota has played everywhere across the attacking line.

    He started on the left at the Etihad and on the right at Stamford Bridge. Earlier in the season, at Arsenal for example, he played in a front two with Nunez, while against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu recently he was a No.9 again.

    It is fair to say that Klopp is yet to find the right attacking balance, and Diaz’s imminent return from a long-term knee injury, although welcome, may complicate matters further in the coming weeks.

  5. Gunning for Arsenal

    Gunning for Arsenal

    If Jota is to rediscover his scoring touch, then the visit of Arsenal to Anfield this Sunday could provide the perfect opportunity.

    His record against the Gunners is superb. In eight appearances against Mikel Arteta’s side, Jota has scored seven times. His first Liverpool goal was against them, and in four meetings last season he scored four times, including two at the Emirates in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final, and another there in a vital league win a few weeks later.

    Arsenal will arrive on Merseyside confident, knowing a win would represent another huge step towards their first league title in 19 years, but also aware that their record at Anfield is pretty dire. They haven’t won there in the league since September 2012, and have conceded three or more goals on nine occasions in the intervening period, including a 4-0 beating when the sides met last season.

    Jota, of course, scored that day, but things have changed a lot since. There will be no Nuno Tavares offering up gifts at the back, no Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang strolling around up front, no Albert Sambi Lokonga looking overwhelmed by the occasion.

    Liverpool, too, are different, though not in a good way. They are 23 points worse off than at the same stage last season, and 29 behind Arsenal. Their team, so ruthless and so consistent for so long, looks a shadow of what it once was. Their manager, for so long a ball of energy and enthusiasm, right now looks like a man who would rather be anywhere else but on the touchline, watching a fading side break his heart.

    Only performances, only results, can change the mood at Anfield, and it is down to Klopp and his players to do that. 

    Maybe the sight of the Premier League leaders, the champions-in-waiting, will stir something on Sunday, in Liverpool and in Jota.