Diogo Jota couldn’t hide his excitement at linking up with Alexis Mac Allister during Liverpool’s pre-season victory over Karlsruher SC
The beaming smile that lit up Diogo Jota’s face after just 45 minutes alongside Alexis Mac Allister was rather telling.
No sooner had Liverpool’s new £35m midfielder threaded an eye-of-the-needle ball for Jota to score his second during the 4-2 victory over Karlsruher SC was the No.20 being quizzed about the talents of the Argentine World Cup winner.
“I like these kinds of players,” beamed Jota. “They just see these passes. I just need to make the run and he will make it. I think I will link up very well with him.”
The Portuguese forward was in Liverpool’s second-half XI that took to the Wildparkstadion turf on Wednesday evening as part of a youthful front line alongside teenagers Ben Doak and Calum Scanlon. Slightly deeper, in the engine room, sat Cody Gakpo and Mac Allister, with James McConnell as the anchor.
For Jota, Wednesday night couldn’t have been more dissimilar to the events of 12 months ago when he was deprived of a pre-season schedule after suffering a relapse of a hamstring – he had initially sustained during an outing for Portugal during that summer’s Nations League fixtures – during day one of the Reds’ pre-season tour of Asia.
Having fired 21 goals in the previous season as Liverpool chased Champions League and Premier League glory, the setback would see Jota sidelined until early September when he was introduced as a late second-half substitute during the stalemate with Everton at Goodison Park.
This time around, however, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers, Atletico Madrid, and FC Porto forward will be looking to make up for the stop-start campaign he endured at Anfield last term. And if his two-goal salvo in Karlsruhe is an early indicator, then he is already staking his claim to lead the Reds’ front line at Stamford Bridge on August 13.
“This was our first game of the season,” added Jota. “It’s about getting full fitness, giving our best in the moments, pressing, and trying to get some ideas on the ball.
“Goals help, the team feels more confident, the players that score, like me, even more. That’s what pre-season is all about, it’s building that confidence and building that fitness into the season.”
As well as finding the net himself, fellow central forwards Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo unofficially opened their accounts for the new season earlier in the victory as they too look to stake their claim for a starting role. Though whoever gets the nod away at Chelsea in just over three weeks and beyond is set to reap the rewards of the arrivals of Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.
That’s because regardless of whether Jordan Henderson decides to continue with his glittering 12-year career at Anfield and reject an eye-watering £350,000 per-week offer from Saudi Pro League side Al Ettifaq, the makeup of Liverpool’s midfield is set to change dramatically in the coming campaign as an additional onus is placed on the attacking output of the two No.8s.
That looks set to be 24-year-old Mac Allister and 22-year-old Szoboszlai, who between them managed 22 goals and 16 assists during their outings for Brighton & Hove Albion and RB Leipzig last season. That stands in stark contrast to the return of Liverpool’s two first-choice No.8s of last season, Henderson and Thiago Alcantara, who returned zero goals and just four assists across all competitions.
It is worth mentioning the obvious caveat to such a poor return is the job of Henderson, who has for years now undertaken the role of the safety netting to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s brilliance. It is the selflessness of the Reds captain that has allowed the No.66 to redefine the remit of the modern full-back.
How that approach could change in the immediate future with Liverpool now boasting their first midfield creators since Philippe Coutinho’s time at Anfield five-and-a-half years ago remains to be seen, although all of the signs point towards a prolonged stint in the engine room for Alexander-Arnold.
And with the restraints now set to finally be lifted from those in Liverpool’s engine room for arguably the first time during Klopp’s eight years at Anfield, the battle between Jota, Nunez, and Gakpo is set to take on a new dimension as the trio fights it out for the chance to line up ahead of a new-look midfield.