Diogo Jota has returned – and if the first three months of the new campaign are anything to go by, then he might just be better than ever.
The Portugal international, like many of his club team-mates, suffered a forgettable 2022-23 campaign at Anfield that will live long in the memory as he suffered two long-term muscle injuries in the middle of a 12-month goal drought in Liverpool colours.
Rewind roughly 18 months and the dawn of the No.20’s dispirited campaign can be traced back to the final outing of its predecessor.
The venue was France’s Stade de France and Jota, having scored 21 goals across all competitions as the Reds headed for an unprecedented quadruple, found himself named on the substitutes’ bench for the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
Disappointment at missing out in the 2022 showpiece final had come just weeks after he was resigned to a similar fate for the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea after Luis Diaz’s stellar impact on arrival at Anfield had quickly ushered the Portugual international out of Jurgen Klopp’s first-choice XI.
Similar heartbreak would follow the forward into the new season, with an initial hamstring injury he suffered in a post-season international fixture quick to be irritated upon returning to pre-season training with his Liverpool team-mates.
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Jota’s unfortunate end to 2022 would culminate in October when a Man-of-the-Match performance in a 1-0 victory over Manchester City was curtailed by his injury-time departure on a stretcher.
The 26-year-old had suffered a serious calf injury and would miss the following month’s World Cup in Qatar, as well as a further three months of action for Liverpool.
Upon his return in February, Jota was eager to make up for lost time. But the reality that such a plan might not be possible was abundantly clear as Liverpool won just one of their five Premier League outings before the forward’s return cameo in a 2-0 victory over Everton.
Such troubles were spotlighted in the eight Premier League outings in which Jota appeared – before the 6-1 trouncing of Leeds United in April – in which he failed to find the back of the net.
The forward cut a frustrated figure, regularly snatching at chances and playing with a lack of confidence as Liverpool’s helter-skelter top-four challenge was bettered by the efforts of Manchester United and Newcastle United.
Without the guise of goal-scoring prowess that saw him tally 34 goals across his first two Anfield campaigns, the Portugal international was tasked with finding further ways to compete with a star-studded attacking line-up that had been bolstered by the winter addition of Cody Gakpo just weeks earlier.
Indeed, the need to add facets to his game during the longest barren spell of his Premier League career has made Jota a more complete performer this time around. It’s no wonder he has started seven of the 11 Premier League games he has been available for this campaign.
Compared to his exceptional 21/22 campaign in fact, Jota is averaging (per 90) more touches (48 vs 41), carries into the final third (4.65 vs 2.82), key passes (1.70 vs 1.52) and interceptions (0.46 vs 0.26).
It makes it no wonder that this term there have been no such hardships for Jota who has quietly gone about his work at Anfield impressively; providing the gloss on a routine home victory over Brentford last weekend with his eighth goal of the season.
It’s now only Mohamed Salah who boasts a better minute-to-goal ratio than Jota at Liverpool this season, with the Reds’ No.20’s rate of 0.82 per 90 falling just behind Salah’s remarkable 0.86.
Alongside Salah, Gakpo, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez, Jota is part of a well-oiled forward machine at Anfield that has already tallied 35 goals in all competitions.
And with Jota enjoying arguably the finest form of his Anfield career, who knows what this season will bring for the Portuguese forward? Certainly, more riches than last campaign is the answer for now.