After spending months injured on the sidelines, Diogo Jota has returned to full training for Liverpool, and he could unlock one of Cody Gakpo’s hidden strengths.
Diogo Jota has proved to be quite the surprise package since arriving on Merseyside back in the summer of 2020. The Portuguese was signed from mid-table Wolves, with many Reds supporters initially expecting him to act as a rotation option for Jürgen Klopp’s go-to offensive trio.
Jota was tasked with breaking up that trident of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, and it didn’t take long for him to do exactly that, often forcing his boss to select a front four rather than a three. He was quick, penetrative, direct and energetic, and he proved to be a seamless fit at Anfield.
Perhaps the most shocking element attached to Jota’s game was his remarkable ability to score headers, even despite his height. Standing just 1.78m tall, he doesn’t look like much of an aerial target upon first glance, but he’s shown himself to be unusually strong when competing for balls in the air.
Indeed, just under 30 per cent of his Premier League goals for the Reds have been scored with his head, compared to 42 per cent with his favored right foot. The 26-year-old can leap higher than many of his peers, and the accuracy and power that he’s able to generate is very impressive.
Klopp hasn’t benefited from Jota’s unique threat since he picked up an unfortunate injury in October against Manchester City, but supporters will be happy to know that he returned to full training this week, re-joining his teammates on the grass on Wednesday.
Liverpool has an upcoming local derby to contest against Everton, and while that match could come too soon for Jota, he could aim to be back for his team’s high-profile clash against Newcastle United next weekend.
One of the players who should be happier than most about Jota’s return to action is new signing Cody Gakpo. Having arrived from PSV Eindhoven last month, the Dutch international is yet to register a goal or an assist in a red shirt, despite his healthy record of returns in his homeland before his transfer.
Gakpo, signed for an initial $45m (£37m/€42m) in January, has registered 24 league assists over the past 18 months, with many of those stemming from an under-the-radar weapon of his. He has many offensive skills but upon inspection of his game, Liverpool’s latest signing has an unorthodox crossing trait attached to his profile.
He’s regularly deployed on the left flank, and — given he’s right-footed — he tends to cut inside often. However, rather than shooting every time, Gakpo sometimes decides to hit delicate crosses in the direction of where Jota would usually be, around the six-yard box and back post.
The Dutchman’s chipped crosses are often subtle and precise, almost like he’s used a gold club rather than his foot to strike the ball. Once Jota’s presence in the penalty box has been restored in the coming weeks, Gakpo will have a target to aim for.
Over the past month, Liverpool’s attack has suffered a decline as Klopp has prioritized fixing his leaky defense. With Jota back in the team, though, the Reds should find their firepower in the final third once more.