BERGAMO • Diogo Jota’s superb hat-trick lit up Liverpool’s 5-0 Champions League thrashing of Atalanta on Tuesday and served further notice to the club’s famed front line that the Portuguese striker does not intend to play solely a supporting role.
The Reds face Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday and it now seems almost unthinkable that Jota’s name will not be in the starting line-up.
That may have seemed unlikely at the start of the season when Liverpool signed the 23-year-old from Wolverhampton Wanderers to provide competition to Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, who had developed into one of the most feared attacking trios in football.
With Firmino’s form under the spotlight after an underwhelming start to the campaign, Jota slotted in alongside Salah and Mane and put on a clinical display of finishing before being replaced by Firmino in the 65th minute.
“I’m playing in the best team of my career so far, that’s for sure,” Jota told BT Sport after Liverpool won three out of three in Group D.
“I don’t know if it was my best moment, but obviously scoring goals is my way of playing football, so I’m really happy with it.”
Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool splashed a reported £41 million (S$72.6 million) to secure the signature of Jota, who scored 16 goals – nine of them in the Europa League – for Wolves last season.
He has already begun paying back that fee in earnest with seven goals in 10 games, and he tormented the Atalanta defence together with Mane and Salah, who both scored as well.
“Obviously (they are) two world-class players, we all know their quality makes it easy for me to do my job because they are outstanding players,” he explained.
Jota is swiftly developing a taste for European competition, having scored three hat-tricks in the Champions League and Europa League combined since the start of last season – the only player to have done so more than once.
With a trip to the Etihad Stadium to come, he picked the perfect moment to stake his claim to a starting spot.
He will be in the team. Tonight Diogo played a super, super game but that says nothing about Bobby.
Finally, an incredible goal from Gabriel (finished the game). In general, it is good news that he is back.
“The clean sheet as well, if we can keep a clean sheet against City we will win the game,” the Portuguese added.
Manager Jurgen Klopp said Jota’s form does not give him a selection problem and insisted that Firmino still has his full backing.
“Good performances never give me a headache,” said the German.
“For tonight it was clear that it made more sense to use the good shape that Diogo is in and because of the way Atalanta plays in defence it made sense that the skill set of Diogo helps.
“The world is sometimes a really bad place that when someone is shining we speak immediately of (another) player… and we would not be in the Champions League if not for Bobby Firmino.
“He will be in the team. Tonight Diogo played a super, super game but that says nothing about Bobby.”
City manager Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, welcomed the option of having a striker fit for Sunday’s blockbuster clash after Gabriel Jesus marked his return from injury with a goal to seal a 3-0 Champions League win over Olympiakos.
Ferran Torres opened the scoring in the 12th minute but City have lacked a ruthless streak in recent weeks in the Premier League without a natural striker, as Jesus and Sergio Aguero have had an injury-hit start to the season.
Jesus was introduced for the final quarter to boost his match fitness and took just 11 minutes to thrash the ball high past Jose Sa to double City’s advantage, before Joao Cancelo netted the third goal.
“We played an exceptional first half, but unfortunately we cannot finish the games, we struggle a bit for the second goal,” said Guardiola, whose team have maximum points in Group C.
“Finally, an incredible goal from Gabriel (finished the game). In general, it is good news that he is back.”
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE