Liverpool FC

Diogo Jota must start in Madrid if Liverpool are serious about Champions League

Robbie Copeland
Apr 5, 2021, 5:15 PM GMT+1
Diogo Jota is Liverpool's form player
Diogo Jota is Liverpool's form player | Pool/Getty Images

Liverpool's Champions League tie with Real Madrid is simply make or break for their season.

Their defence of the Premier League title has been a disaster. None of the extenuating factors completely legislate for the extreme drop-off that has the defending champions 26 points behind the leaders at the beginning of April. They just haven't been good enough.

In 30 league games this term, they've already lost as many as they did in the previous three seasons combined. The domestic cups haven't yielded any change either - they left both the FA and EFL Cups at the fourth round stage.

But somehow, they've dug in and stayed afloat in the Champions League.

Jurgen Klopp's team have saved their best performances for Europe. While they were losing to Leicester and Fulham in the Premier League, they were flying out to Budapest just days later to dismiss Bundesliga title-chasers RB Leipzig with no fuss whatsoever.

Heading into the quarter-final first leg on Tuesday, Liverpool are in better shape than they have been for a while.

The partnership of Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips have plugged a gap at the back, keeping successive league clean sheets for the first time since September, while their midfield is looking far more balanced and functional with Fabinho reinstalled at the base.

The team essentially picks itself...but there is one big question. Where does Diogo Jota fit in?

The Portuguese simply has to play from the start. He shattered his status as backup to the established front three almost immediately after he signed from Wolves, and he's made a similar impact since returning from injury last month.

He's scored or assisted four of their last six goals - no coincidence they've come in a run of three straight wins - and his double from the bench against Arsenal essentially won them the points at the Emirates.

With three goals in his last two appearances, he's in the best form of any of Liverpool's attackers. Ahead of the biggest game of their season so far, it would be madness not to start him.

Mohamed Salah retains an automatic place - he's their top scorer this season by a distance - but there could be no complaints if Jota stepped in for either Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane. Neither have been quite up to it so far this term, and while both looked strong in north London at the weekend, a rest could do one of them the world of good.

The other option is the Hail Mary; Klopp has only started his Fab Four together twice so far, but one of those was against Manchester City - suggesting it's a tactic the German is happy to use against the best of the best.

That could be particularly viable with Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum available to provide a steady base, and might be worth taking into consideration to nick a vital away goal or two on the Spanish giants' patch.

Whatever happens, though, if the Reds have serious ambitions of winning the competition this season, their number 20 has to be on the team sheet in Madrid.

Advance through this one and either Chelsea or Porto stand between them and another shot at glory in Istanbul.

On current form, Jota is their best means of getting there. So let him loose in Spain and see what happens.